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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

May 22, 2008

ISU Physical Therapy

The team in ISU's physical therapy clinic (from left): physical therapy assistant Brent Bowser, physical therapist and director Jim Nespor, and physical therapist Dabney Hargrafen. Photo by Bob Elbert.

The satisfaction of alleviating pain

by Anne Krapfl

Jim Nespor's workday is filled with "copers" and "non-copers." The director of Iowa State's physical therapy clinic said he's fortunate to see many more of the former than the latter. He knows this because interns and former staff members who have moved on remind him of it all the time.

"I like to work with people, and at Iowa State I'm lucky to work with clients who are motivated to get better, who want to achieve the goals we set for them," he said. "That may sound pretty basic, but general PTs don't always see this."

"PT," or physical therapy, is about identifying, treating and preventing recurrence of dysfunctions of the musculoskeletal system. It's a job Nespor said offers a lot of satisfaction.

The physical therapy clinic has occupied the southwest corner of the main floor in the Lied Recreation Center since the building opened in spring 1990. The clinic was new, a joint venture of the student health center and the athletics department. Those two units still provide some operating support. Within a couple years, Nespor had successfully navigated ISU health care plans and the clinic was able to start serving ISU employees as well.

Nespor's first career was in the related field of athletic training, and he worked as a Cyclone assistant athletic trainer in the mid-1980s for three years. He left to get his physical therapy degree at the University of New Mexico, spent a year at Purdue University as a PT and athletic trainer, and was hired back to Iowa State to launch the clinic. In 1993, a second PT position was added, currently held by Dabney Hargrafen. Brent Bowser has held the physical therapist assistant position since it was created in 2005.

The team serves three client groups on campus: students, student athletes and employees. Among all three groups, knee injuries are the most common injury, Nespor said. Among faculty and staff, weekend recreation injuries frequently involve knees. But Nespor's team also sees a lot of back and neck pain related to poor office ergonomics or poor posture and long hours at computers. This winter, the physical therapists helped employees recover from numerous ice-related injuries, including fractured wrists, a broken ankle and a shoulder injury. Injuries resulting from a repetitive movement also are common among staff. And, he noted, some problems simply are related to aging, not over-doing it.

Inside asked Nespor to explain some the specifics of the physical therapy services for faculty and staff:

Does my injury have to occur on the job for me to use ISU physical therapy?

No, you just have to be an Iowa State student or employee for us to help you. We see all sorts of injuries from weekend recreation mishaps -- such as skiing or cycling -- and from accidents at home.

Do you assist clients under ISU's worker compensation program?

We are the designated physical therapy site for worker's compensation cases at Iowa State. Employees should follow the injury protocol as set by human resource services. It involves a stop at McFarland Clinic's occupational health works, but then our employees should be referred here.

Why is Iowa State able to offer its own physical therapy clinic? Does this violate the state no-compete rule for public agencies?

We're taking care of our own people -- Iowa State students, faculty and staff.

Does health insurance cover physical therapy sessions?

We are an approved provider in all of the employee health care options offered and in the student health insurance plan. Insurance covers a majority of physical therapy costs, less any deductibles or co-pays required by specific plans.

If I start physical therapy, does it continue indefinitely?

No. Our goal is to make our clients independent. Immediately following an injury or diagnosis, we provide care on a regular basis as the situation requires. Then we teach our clients to manage their own condition and prevent a recurrence, for example, through regular home exercises or posture correction.


The facts

ISU Physical Therapy

132 Lied Center


Office hours: M-F 8 a.m.-6 p.m.

Parking: Lot next to building (PT staff provide a free permit)


"Our goal is to make our clients independent ... we teach our clients to manage their own condition and prevent a recurrence, for example, through regular home exercises or posture correction."

Jim Nespor