Deborah A. Backus, PhD

Deborah A. Backus, PhD

Assistant Professor, Rehab

Center for Rehabilitation Medicine
1441 Clifton Rd., NE
Atlanta, GA 30309
Phone: (404) 727-5799 (Office)


My experience as a physical therapy clinician working with people with movement dysfunction due to neurological injury or disease, especially spinal cord injury (SCI), led me on a quest to better understand how therapists can facilitate the greatest potential in their clients by tapping into the potential in the nervous system. This desire led me to pursue my PhD in neuroscience. My research efforts are centered on gaining a greater understanding of how sensory inputs can be used to facilitate plasticity and improved function in people with nervous system disease and dysfunction, specifically SCI. I am also interested in applying information from basic science to the evaluation and development of activity-based interventions for SCI. As Associate Director of the SCI Research Program at Shepherd Center, I aim to facilitate the translation of this research into efficacious and cost-effective treatment interventions and programs to maximize the potential for lifelong recovery in people with neurological injury and disease. Currently, I have three ongoing projects investigating the effectiveness of three different types of activity-based interventions for people with SCI. These include a study evaluating the effectiveness of the functional electrical stimulation ergometer (FES bike) forfacilitatingautonomic plasticity in people with motor incomplete SCI, and two others evaluating the effectiveness of upper extremity retraining devices in people with tetraplegia. These studies are being done in collaboration with clinicians at Shepherd Center (, and students in the Emory University DPT program.

One of my greatest pleasures is to share my passion with incoming DPT students regarding our understanding of how the nervous system contributes to every day movements. I teach the Neuroscience courses, and in various other classes across the curriculum. My other love is facilitating interaction between basic scientists, clinical researchers, and clinicians interested in improving functional recovery in people with neurological dysfunction. To this end, I also participate in collaborations and discussions with basic scientists and clinicians at Emory, Georgia Tech, and Shepherd Center (

I am currently a co-investigator at Shepherd Center, on a NIDRR-funded grant entitled “Improving Spinal Cord Injury Related Outcomes”. This is an exciting collaboration between several centers, led by Gale Whiteneck, PhD and Susan Horn, PhD. You can go to: for more information.


2004 Ph.D. Neuroscience Atlanta, GA, USA
1986 B.S. Physical Therapy Sargent College Boston, MA, USA