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Robert J. Butler, PT, DPT, PhD

Robert J. Butler, PT, DPT, PhD
Assistant Professor in Orthopaedic Surgery, Division of Physical Therapy

Dr. Butler is a clinical scientist, educator, and mentor in the Duke Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) Program. His specific area of expertise is in clinical biomechanics. Dr. Butler brings this expertise to the Movement Science sequence in the first year of the DPT curriculum. His research is focused on the role of functional movement outcomes in identifying and addressing movement dysfunction as it relates to reducing injury risk, improving therapeutic outcomes, and reducing the rate of joint degeneration. He has presented a number of abstracts at national and international conferences and has authored multiple publications in rehabilitation and biomechanical journals. Dr. Butler serves as a movement-based outcomes consultant for a number of orthopaedic and sports medicine groups nationally and internationally in populations ranging across the lifespan.

Dr. Butler’s overarching research goal is to reduce the incidence of early joint degeneration following ACL reconstruction. He looks to accomplish this goal by: identifying readily available methodologies to screen for individuals at risk for sustaining primary and secondary ACL tears; establishing evidence-based return to activity criteria following ACL reconstructive surgery; and normalizing inefficient movement patterns with the goal of reducing articular cartilage loading. Dr. Butler works closely with health care professionals and researchers in Duke Orthopaedics and Duke Sports Medicine in order to establish interdisciplinary standards for optimizing patient outcomes.

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The work of Dr. Butler’s team was highlighted during the recent rehabilitation of Major League Baseball Pitcher Marcus Stroman following ACL injury. Stroman was the first Major League pitcher to return to play in the same season when tearing the ACL on their landing leg.

Current Projects

  • Establishing how to systematically progress loading through the lower extremity to optimize lower extremity function and performance
  • Systematically screening for movement efficiency utilizing wearable devices
  • Incorporating field-based functional tests in identifying return to duty and return to sport 

Selected Publications


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