Michael R. Murray, PT, DPT, did not have to travel far after graduation in 2015 thanks to quickly finding a home at Duke Sports Medicine as an aquatic physical therapist.
Murray is also the vice president of governance for the Aquatic Physical Therapy Section of American Physical Therapy Association (APTA).
"I've worked with the aquatic section almost since the day I graduated from UNC,” Murray said. “I’ve been involved in a lot of new initiatives within the aquatic section starting as a student on different committees. They've helped me out a lot, and I've helped them out a lot."
The APTA’s aquatic section recognized Murray’s work in February when he received the 2017 Judy Cirullo Award for Exceptional Contribution to the Area of Aquatic Therapy, during the aquatic section’s 25th anniversary celebration.
When Murray was a student at UNC-CH, he attended many APTA events including National Student Conclave, the Federal Advocacy Forum, CSM, and NEXT conferences. At this year’s CSM in San Antonio, Murray gave his first presentation alongside Lori Brody, PT, PhD, SCS, and Matthew DeBole, PT, DPT, OCS. The presentation focused on a return-to-run program incorporating aquatic-based treatment for running injuries and how water can be used effectively in early and late forms of rehabilitation. It also incorporated a systematic review Murray worked on with students he mentored at Duke for their capstone project.
“It does feel nice that my contributions have been noticeable and helpful to aquatic therapy,” Murray said. The award is named for one of the founders and the first president of the aquatic section and recognizes exceptional contributions to the field, including equipment design, innovative programming, and in patient care.
As an aquatic physical therapist, Murray works with a variety of patients from athletes recovering from surgery to older adults with goals to improve their functioning and balance, which he finds extremely rewarding.
“A lot of people feel like they’re broken,” Murray said. “They’re not broken, they just need to overcome some of the mental challenges to use their body again. Using the water, you can show them positive things they can do, which is good reinforcement to promote changes in their condition.”
Murray hopes to continue to contribute to aquatic physical therapy, by researching how muscle activation works in water vs land and the difference between trained and untrained individuals. He also hopes to continue to engage with students to bring aquatic therapy to the forefront of student education.
"I think aquatic therapy in general is something that is underutilized or not utilized in the best way possible,” Murray said.
“I feel like it's my lifelong goal to bring aquatic therapy to the forefront of PT [physical therapy] and show you can get a lot more out of the water than you think you can."
Murray is also thankful for the support shown to him by his employer, which has provided opportunities for him to expand the aquatic physical therapy program and supports his efforts in aquatic-physical-therapy related research.
He has not forgotten where he started, including the influence of UNC-CH Associate Professor in the Division of Physical Therapy, Deborah Thorpe, PT, PhD, who mentored him during his capstone project and was a pivotal resource when he was exploring aquatic physical therapy as a student.
“I’m forever grateful to UNC for the opportunity to be a PT,” Murray said. “I wear my UNC ring every day in the water at Duke so everyone knows who gave me the chance to succeed at what I love.”
-Blake Morgan, DAHS communications assistant