Jessie VanSwearingen , PhD, PT



    Associate Professor

    Office Location

    6037 Forbes Tower

    Office phone


Academic Appointment

  • Associate Professor, Physical Therapy
  • Secondary Appointment, School of Nursing


  • BS in Physical Therapy, University of Delaware
  • MS in Physical Therapy, School of Allied Health Professions, The Ohio State University
  • PhD in Anatomy and Cell Science,  School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh

Awards and Honors

  • H. Rodney Sharp Scholar, University of Delaware, 1974‑1978
  • Mortar Board and Phi Kappa Phi, 1977
  • Bailey Memorial Award, University of Delaware, 1978
  • Mary McMillan Scholar, American Physical Therapy Association, 1978
  • Research Presentation Award, Pennsylvania Physical Therapy Association, 1982
  • Service Award, St. Clair Hospital, 1983
  • Research Award, Southwestern District, PPTA, 1988
  • Center for Neuroscience, University of Pittsburgh Travel Award 1991
  • Sigma Xi, University of Pittsburgh Chapter, 1994
  • Superior Performance Achievement Award, for Patient Care Services, Geriatric Evaluation and Management Program, VAMC-Pittsburgh, 1995
  • NIA, Summer Institute on Research in Aging (selected participant), 1995
  • Health Care Heroes Award, Finalist - Health Care Provider Category, Pittsburgh Business Times, December, 1996
  • Chattanooga Research Award for the Best Article on Clinical Research Published in Physical Therapy in 1996
  • Health Care Hero Award: Health Care Provider, Non-Physician Category, Pittsburgh Business Times, 1997
  • Fourth Annual Mentor Award, Survival Skills and Ethics Program, University of Pittsburgh, 1998
  • Community Champion Award, TCI & Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh, PA, 1998
  • Excellence in Neurology Award, Pennsylvania Physical Therapy Association, Neurology Special Interest Group, October, 1999
  • Manuscript Reviewer of the Year,Physical Therapy Journal, 2000
  • Alumni Award, 2001,University of Delaware, Physical Therapy Department, July, 2001
  • Catherine Worthingham Fellow of the American Physical Therapy Association, FAPTA
  • Jack Walker Award, for Best Research Report in Physical Therapy, American Physical Therapy Association, 2012

Academic/Research Interests

  • Neuromotor Function and Movement Control
  • Energy cost of performance, physiological basis for exercise in health, repair and recovery of function
  • Geriatrics
  • Walking, mobility, gait

Refereed Articles

Click here for a list of peer-reviewed publications

Other Scholarly Publications

  • Carvell, GE and Van Swearingen, JM.  Neurological Analysis of Sensory Motor Dysfunction, Chapter 17, in Scully R, and Barnes M, (eds), Physical Therapy, Philadelphia, Lippincott, 1989
  • VanSwearingen JM.  Electrical stimulation for improving muscle performance, Chapter 4,  in Nelson R, Hayes K, Currier D (eds) Clinical Electrotherapy, third edition, Philadelphia, PA:  Appleton & Lange, 1999
  • VanSwearingen JM.  Exercise, energy cost and aging in orthotic and prosthetic   rehabilitation. Chapter 4, in Lusardi MM, Nielsen C (eds) Orthotics and Prosthetics in Rehabilitation, Newton, MA: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2000
  • VanSwearingen JM, Cohn JF.  Smiling in facial paralysis. Chapter 31 in Beurskens CHG, vanGelder RS, Heymans PG, Manni JJ, Nicolai JPA (eds) The Facial Palsies, Netherlands: LEMMA Publishers, 2005

Courses Recently Taught

  • Fundamentals of Neuroscience for the Orthopedic Clinician (graduate, post-professional) A comprehensive study of neuroanatomy and systems neuroscience underlying clinical assessment and clinical decision-making.
  • Analysis of Neuromuscular Signs And Symptoms In Clinical Decision-Making (graduate, post-professional) Analysis of the process and knowledge necessary for identifying the neuromuscular tissue or system, representing the origin of disorders in patients; case-solving format of learning experiences.
  • Geriatric Physical Therapy (entry-level professional) Understanding age-related changes in major bodily systems and the impact on assessment and intervention in physical therapy.
  • Introduction to Neuroscience (entry-level professional) Lecture and laboratory course of neuroanatomy and neurophysiology, with emphasis on a systems-approach to understanding movement control, and movement dysfunction with insult to neural elements emphasis on normal sensory-motor integration.
  • Clinical Electrophysiology (entry-level professional) Unit on the application of electricity for therapeutic and diagnostic purposes; strong emphasis on the integrating anatomy and neuroscience background as the rationale for most interventions; recent related research reports for the evidenced-based practice.

Funded Research Projects


VanSwearingen PI, Huppert T, Erickson K, Sparto P, and the Pittsburgh Pepper Center Neural Adaption Working Group, Co-Is
P30 AG024827 (Studenski PI) Pittsburgh Older Americans Independence Center NIA                              05/01/12 - 08/31/12
Neural Adaption:  Motor Learning Induced Changes in Functional Brain Networks. To define functional brain networks that underlies acquisition and performance of skilled movement tasks, both unskilled performance as for a novice before motor learning, and the brain networks serving highly skilled movement performance as for an expert mover, after motor learning.


VanSwearingen Senior-I, Research Assessment Core, P30 AG024827 (Studenski PI)
Pittsburgh Older Americans Independence Center NIA                       6/0/01/09-05/31/14
The specific aims are to develop interventions to improve function and independence in older adults with balance disorders, integrate studies of physiologic, biomechanical and psychosocial mechanisms affecting balance with clinical studies, and foster multidisciplinary research and training.

VanSwearingen PI, Delitto Co-I, P30 AG024827 (Studenski PI)
Pittsburgh Older Americans Independence Center NIA              06/01/05-05/31/07
Restoring Skill in Walking:  A Motor Re-Learning Approach to Intervention for Older Adults with Mobility Disability. To determine the feasibility and efficacy of therapeutic exercises that focus on motor-learning as a method of improving skill in walking; an approach that has been found to be important for motor learning in animal models.

VanSwearingen Senior-I Research Assessment Core,
P30 AG024827 (Studenski PI) Pittsburgh Older Americans Independence Center NIA                     9/30/04-5/31/09
The specific aims are to develop interventions to improve function and independence in older adults with balance disorders, integrate studies of physiologic, biomechanical and psychosocial mechanisms affecting balance with clinical studies, and foster multidisciplinary research and training.

VanSwearingen PI, Erickson, Co-I, P30 AG024827 (Studenski PI)
Pittsburgh Older Americans Independence Center NIA                        09/01/10-8/31/11
Benefits of Two Types of Therapeutic Exercise on Gait and Cognition.  The pilot study of gait and cognitive outcomes of two exercise interventions (aerobic gait exercise and motor learning gait exercise) to improve walking while thinking in older adults with slow gait speed and slow processing speed.

Service and Assignments

  • Committee Chair, Promotion and Tenure, School of Health and Rehabilitaiton Sciences 
  • Chairperson, Research Committee, Southwestern District of the Pennsylvania Physical Therapy Association, 1982‑1983, Co-chair 1984 ‑ 1986
  • Chairperson, Clinical Planning Committee, Physical Therapy Program, University of Pittsburgh, 1983
  • Research Committee, Pennsylvania Physical Therapy Association, 1984-1990
  • Nominating Committee, Pennsylvania Physical Therapy Association, 1988-90
  • Chairperson, Nominating Committee, South West District of Pennsylvania Physical Therapy Association, 1987-90
  • Delegate to 1991 and 1992 House of Delegates, APTA, Southwest District PPTA
  • Book Reviewer, Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports PhysicalTherapy, 1985-present
  • Research Abstracts Reviewer, Gerontology Society of America, 1999 - present
  • Clinical Research Agenda, American Physical Therapy Association, invited participant to establish a research agenda for the profession, 1998-1999
  • Research Committee, Section on Neurology, APTA, 2001-present
  • Research Abstract Reviewer, APTA Combined Sections, Annual Meetings, 2001-present
  • Associate Editorial Board Member, Physical Therapy, 2001-present
  • Research Committee, Section on Geriatrics, APTA, 2002-present
  • APTA Program Committee, Research Abstracts and Program Review, 2002- present
  • Editorial Board Member, Physical Therapy, 2002-2006
  • Research Committee (Chair), Section on Geriatrics, APTA, beginning 2008

Manuscript Reviewer

  • Journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, 1991-present
  • Physical Therapy, 1986-present
  • Journal of Physical Therapy Education, 1991 - present
  • Journal of the American Geriatric Society. 2003- present
  • Journal of the Gerontology, 2002-present
  • Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2006- present
  • Clinical Biomechanics. 2006- present
  • American College of Sports Medicine. 2002- present

Membership in Scientific/Professional/Honorary Societies

  • American Physical Therapy Association
  • APTA Sections on Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy, Education, Geriatrics, Research, and Neurology
  • Pennsylvania Physical Therapy Association
  • American College of Sports Medicine
  • Society for Neuroscience
  • Pittsburgh Society for Neuroscience
  • The Gerontological Society of America
  • Pennsylvania Geriatric Society - Western
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