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Air Force physical therapist supporting NASA wins award

  • Published
  • By Lindsay Mahon
  • Air Force Surgeon General Public Affairs
The 2021 Air Force Medical Service Annual Awards were announced last month, recognizing individuals and teams who represent the best of Air Force Medicine.

The Biomedical Clinician of the Year in the field grade category was awarded to Maj. Danielle Anderson, physical therapist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. She currently serves on the Astronaut Strength, Conditioning and Rehabilitation team, leading the Musculoskeletal and Sports Medicine Services for the Astronaut Corps.

She is also the first Air Force physical therapist chosen to support the NASA mission at the only human spaceflight program in the country.

“I am very proud of Maj. Anderson. She is an accomplished clinician and especially deserving recipient of this award,” said Lt. Col. Thomas Heier, Air Force Element Medical Department of Defense commander. “She has truly mastered her craft and continues to demonstrate the level of expertise that was displayed when she stood up the first nationally accredited Air Force physical therapy residency program. She excels beyond her grade.”

In her current position, Anderson provides care to NASA astronauts while gathering information to enable human performance optimization before, during and post spaceflight. As the U.S. looks to the future of manned operations into space, she is ensuring the medical community is well equipped to support and train for such operations.

“Long-duration spaceflight impacts a human’s physiology much differently than any other austere environment that we’re familiar with,” said Anderson. “My efforts have been focused on understanding these unique challenges and how to deliver care both in the clinic and across distant locations.”

Anderson earned her undergraduate degree in exercise science from Colorado State University and completed a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree at Regis University before entering active duty service in the Air Force in 2012. Shortly after joining, she was selected for fellowship training and went on to receive a Doctor of Science in Physical Therapy from Baylor University in 2018, specializing in orthopedic and manual physical therapy.

Anderson is a board-certified orthopedic specialist, certified strength and conditioning specialist, and a fellow of the American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapists.

She is published in a number of academic journals involving musculoskeletal imaging and injury prevention in military flying units and is dedicated to ongoing research involving instruction of manual therapy techniques and treatment of low back pain, knee osteoarthritis, subacromial pain syndrome, and neck pain in fighter pilots.

The AFMS awards program annually recognizes the top Air Force medics out of more than 24,000 Airmen across 76 military treatment facilities worldwide. There were 81 awards given out this year.

The accomplishments of those recognized demonstrate the expertise, leadership and commitment across the full breadth of the mission support that the AFMS provides to the Air Force, Space Force and combatant commanders.