Meet Dr. Melissa Strzelinski PT, MPT, Phd

Dr. Melissa Strzelinski, PT, MPT, Phd

I am a Physical Therapist with the Colorado Ballet (Denver), associated faculty at Tufts University in the Phoenix and Seattle Hybrid Doctor of Physical Therapy programs, and owner of a concierge-style physical therapy practice, Strive2Thrive Physiotherapy, Ltd. I am the current Vice President/Education Chair of the Performing Arts Special Interest Group (PASIG) of the APTA and a peer reviewer for the Journal of Dance Medicine and Science and Medical Problems of the Performing Artist.

Like many little girls, I started dancing at my local YMCA at an early age. In high school, my interests shifted to soccer, volleyball and poms. Though I had played the piano from first grade on, I quit my senior year when my poms competition schedule took over my schedule. I resumed dancing in college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to fill the void of scheduled movement and rigorous practices poms provided. The dance curriculum incorporated the science of movement, with Anatomy being a required course for dance majors. Though many of my peers arrived squeamish (donned in elbow length kitchen gloves) for cadaver lab, seeing the intricacies of our musculoskeletal system this way and appreciating how joint structure influences movement opened my eyes to the interplay of art, science and movement. This coursework, in conjunction with dancer injury and prevention clinics sparked curiosity in a physical therapy career, something I had not previously considered. I earned two Bachelor of Science Degrees from UW-Madison – Journalism and Dance, but took a 5 year pause exploring other facets of these areas as potential careers before returning to UW Madison for my Physical Therapy degree.

I completed my final clinical rotation working under Marika Molnar and Andrea Zujko at Westside Dance Physical Therapy (NYC). This experience proved a pivotal launching pad for my own career. Though I was unable to find work as a new graduate in New York with the looming financial crisis of 2008, I accepted a position with Athletico Physical Therapy in Chicago, IL, as it came with the opportunity to work as a physical therapist with River North Dance Chicago. My involvement in the Chicago dance community evolved to include working with the Joffrey Ballet, Broadway in Chicago productions, providing injury and pre-season screenings and injury prevention lectures to numerous performing arts groups, and developing a physical therapy program for the Joffrey Trainees. Clinic and performing arts duties aside, my life-long learning tendencies guided me to pursue a PhD in Orthopedic and Sport Science from Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions (Provo, UT).

I left Chicago for an opportunity at Howard Head Sports Medicine in Vail, Colorado - a much-needed literal breath of fresh air to balance the increasing demands of working full time while participating in a full time hybrid PhD curriculum. My clinical interest in the hip blossomed in working closely with Dr. Marc Philippon’s team rehabilitating patients undergoing often complicated hip arthroscopy procedures. The hip became the focus of my research agenda evaluating the influence of hip pain on muscle performance in dancers. I developed an external, handheld dynamometry stabilization device, established its reliability, and utilized it in a larger study assessing dancers across the US (Kansas City Ballet, Fordham University/Alvin Ailey students, Joffrey Ballet and Colorado Ballet). Shaw Bronner was instrumental as my dissertation chair and mentor throughout the process; I would not have seen my PhD through without her guidance, support and friendship.

I have presented my research nationally and internationally through the APTA, Performing Arts Medical Association (PAMA) and the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science (IADMS). I have yet to publish a second paper from my dissertation research findings – life has grown a little more complicated as a post-PhD mom.

I have been involved with the APTA since I joined as a student member in 2006. I attended my first PASIG business meeting at CSM 2008 and continually sought ways to grow my involvement in the SIG. I am two-thirds of my way through my first term as the VP/Education Chair and hope to continue to serve in this realm.

My most memorable experiences as a performing arts physical therapist have largely transpired in the backstage environment. It’s hard to put into words the energy, challenges, rewards, sweat, laughter, tears, accomplishments and relationships that emerge out of often times quite a small space (like the the low-ceiling, yellow-walled, underground room of the Auditorium Theater in Chicago filled with one PT, one massage therapist and numerous over-tired dancers during the 30th of 46 Nutcracker shows). I am fortunate to have the opportunity to share these experiences with the next generation of physical therapists as a clinical instructor; the reward of watching learning transpire with a similar drive and enthusiasm is about as good as it gets. The interconnectedness of the performing arts community continues to amaze and inspire me – this niche practice really emphasizes connections and collaborations and attracts individuals with inherent drive and dedication. I am grateful to the PASIG and its members for continuing to push forward excellence and advancement in the field of performing arts physical therapy.