Research Roundup: Dr. Timothy W. Flynn, PT, PhD, OCS, FAAOMPT

Dr. Flynn is board certified in Orthopaedic Physical Therapy (OCS), a Fellow of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapists (FAAOMPT), and a frequent presenter at state, national, and international meetings. Dr. Flynn is widely published including 5 textbooks, 6 book chapters, over 85 peer-reviewed manuscripts on musculoskeletal disorders and chronic spinal pain. Awards include the James A. Gould Excellence in Teaching Orthopaedic Physical Therapy, Richard W. Bowling – Richard E. Erhard Orthopaedic Clinical Practice Award, the Steven J. Rose Excellence in Research (twice), the AAOMPT Outstanding Research Award (twice), and the Distinguished Alumnus- Marquette University Program in Physical Therapy.  Dr. Flynn is a past President of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapists and an Associate Editor for the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy (JOSPT).

Dr. Flynn is a principal in Evidence in Motion (EIM) an educational company dedicated to elevating the physical therapy profession.  He is a Professor in the School of Physical Therapy at South College in Knoxville, TN where he teaches in the area of musculoskeletal management, chronic pain, and evidence based practice.

Dr. Flynn is a world-renowned clinician dedicated to providing the highest quality care possible at Colorado In Motion (www.ColoradoInMotion.com). His primary clientele includes clients suffering from back pain, chronic spinal pain, failed back surgeries, and chronic pain disorders. National and international clients including NBA and USOC athletes frequently seek Dr. Flynn’s clinical expertise.  He is passionate about ensuring that clients can and should expect better healthcare and the ability to have fitness and vitality throughout their life.  He can be heard weekly on the Pain Reframed Podcast.

What inspired you to go into research?

I was fortunate enough to have great mentors who inspired me to continue learning and to continue to seek out higher education. I specifically wanted to teach and this was really part of that journey to become a better teacher.  I guess I’ve always been curious so research was and remains a natural way to stimulate my curiosity.

Is there anything you wish you would have known before you became a researcher?

If I would have known how difficult and frustrating it is at times perhaps I wouldn’t have pursued that path.

What area of study has your recent research been on?  

I am currently involved in a number of studies. We have clinical trials that are in process or recently completed. Some of the things were looking at our physical therapy management of patients with plantar heel pain and the use of trigger point dry needling in musculoskeletal complaints.  I also continue to be involved in some spine research and remained active in looking at risk and benefits of cervical manipulation.

Can you describe how your research has evolved over the years, bringing you to where you are today?

I definitely have moved out of the realm of lead researcher to more of a research mentor to others. I’ve also moved from looking at just whether certain treatments work to how the pathways of care can really determine patient outcomes. I am very interested in determining best practices for the teaching of physical therapy.  Finally, I find the whole area of pain science, therapeutic alliance and therapist-patient interaction as being an area that will totally change our perspective on patient care.

What do you feel is the biggest hurdle between researchers and clinicians?  What are some solutions you see in overcoming these barriers?

Let me start this answer with the fact that I guess I’ve never really have seen myself as a researcher. I’ve always felt that I’m really a clinician at heart who loves to teach and who is adequate in research.

I’ve been fortunate enough to work with people that are way brighter than I am and with their assistance I have hopefully stumbled along the way enough to have made some meaningful contributions in our profession.

The biggest barrier I see is that some of the best clinicians are in private practice settings with challenging reimbursement climates which means that implementing research needs to be done in a manner that is conscious and supportive of those limitations.  However, that is where a lot of innovation is happening and needs to be studied and replicated.

I would hope that all PTs are at some level researchers and our constantly questioning and refining their practice.

Can you give advice to students/practitioners, who may be considering a career in research, on how to how to find a school and researcher to work under?

Research is essentially about hard work and a disciplined mind. Research is about learning a process and applying it to problems. The scientific method is actually readily available online for free, however it really helps to have a mentor.  There has been some outstanding research that has not come out of universities or heavily funded institutions. Rather a collection of committed individuals trying to understand and determine a better way of practice agrees to collaborate and move forward.

Therefore my advice would be to start with your own practice and systematically evaluate your practice. If you can create a solid case report that can then lead the way to a compelling case series which can lay the foundation for clinical trials.

Without a doubt the best advice is to demonstrate value by being persistent and showing a potential mentor that you are in this for the long run.

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