Rochester, Minnesota




Kristin D. Zhao, Ph.D., uses innovative technologies, including biomechanics techniques, device fabrication and imaging methods, to investigate pathogenesis related to the musculoskeletal system. The long-term goal of Dr. Zhao's research team is to develop and use diagnostic tools to enable earlier diagnosis, prescribe effective interventions for individuals with disabilities and assess outcomes.

Dr. Zhao's team collaborates with investigators in radiology, orthopedics, pediatrics and physical medicine to integrate novel technologies to address issues such as spinal cord injury, osteoarthritis and neuromuscular diseases. In addition, her team is interested in developing assistive technologies for patients across the life span and with various disabilities.

The team is currently focused on assessment of wrist osteoarthritis, shoulder impingement in manual wheelchair users, basilar thumb instability and assessment of a novel upper limb prosthesis. Dr. Zhao's research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and Paralyzed Veterans of America, among other organizations.

Focus areas

  • Why do individuals who use manual wheelchairs, as well as individuals who perform certain tasks with their shoulders, develop shoulder pain that limits their daily activities? Dr. Zhao is working to determine which activities are responsible for decreasing the space for muscles and tendons in the shoulder (the rotator cuff), thereby causing mechanical degeneration of these tissues. Several populations of individuals are at risk of shoulder rotator cuff disease; she is focused on determining how and when to intervene to help these populations.
  • Can wrist arthritis be prevented by detecting any degree of ligament damage during injury and proposing early intervention? Dr. Zhao, in collaboration with Mayo Clinic's Department of Radiology, is using a novel CT imaging technique that can generate movies and quantification of the wrist bones during wrist motion. By using this novel imaging technique, even minor ligament damage can be reflected by measuring minute changes in wrist carpal bone motions. She is interested in finding measures from the bone motions that can predict eventual onset of arthritis, thereby allowing clinicians to intervene.
  • Can imaging and biomechanical techniques help explain gender differences and improve prediction of who will develop thumb and temporomandibular joint arthritis? Dr. Zhao is interested in determining why there is a higher incidence of arthritis of the thumb and jaw in females, and whether biomechanical techniques can be used to determine the predictive factors that may be involved in the initiation of these diseases.

Significance to patient care

Dr. Zhao's research will improve clinical treatment in individuals with musculoskeletal concerns, including joint instability, rotator cuff disease and osteoarthritis of many joints in the body.


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Primary Appointment

  1. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

Academic Rank

  1. Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering


  1. Ph.D. - Rehabilitation Science University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
  2. MA - Kinesiology (Biomechanics track) The University of Texas at Austin
  3. BA - Physics The University of Texas at Austin

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