Professor studies injury prevention, collaborates with German researcher
Published: Monday, September 9, 2013
Updated: Monday, September 9, 2013 21:09
The final moments of her performance were coming to an end, but her adrenaline was still pumping. It was the nationals, and she was excited to finish her routine with one last difficult move. But that final flourish would cost her more than the competition.
Sophomore Brittany Frankel says she moved too hastily and dislocated her knee while also tearing every ligament in her leg, except her ACL, during the final few moments of her national baton twirling competition. She says she thinks her injury occurred because she was distracted by her excitement and tried to rush her performance. Distraction and injury go hand-in-hand, according to Charles “Buz” Swanik, kinesiology and applied physiology professor, who is researching the neuroscience behind athletic injuries in one of the first studies of its kind.
As opposed to studying the anatomical structures of physical injuries after they occur, Swanik, along with his collaborator Jochen Baumeister, director of the Exercise & Brain Research Lab at the Institute of Sports Medicine in University of Paderborn, Germany, are currently investigating injuries before they happen. To date, the two have found that neurological differences, such as diminished cognitive functioning, significantly affect an athlete’s likelihood of becoming injured.
Swanik says his research began while he was studying female athletes’ ACL injuries. He says he, along with his fellow researchers, noticed these athletes were injured not when someone ran into their knee, but rather when they made an awkward or uncoordinated move.
While scientists suspected these injuries were occurring because of some anatomical difference between males and females, Swanik says his team noticed that elite, professional athletes were experiencing the same exact injury. He says it got them thinking the injuries may not have been from physical differences but neurological differences.
Meanwhile, concussion studies were dominating athletic research, Swanik says. He had access to preseason concussion screenings that some of his fellow psychologists from a variety of universities had been studying. At the end of the athletic season, he says they took that data and approached athletic directors to see who had suffered an ACL injury.
At first, their study focused specifically on knee injuries, and they found that student athletes who had not performed as well on the cognitive tests during the concussion screening process had a higher rate of injury, Swanik says.
“We found that there’s these executive functions that can make a person injury prone, especially for this knee injury,” Swanik said. “[The injury is] easy to identify. It’s a serious injury; we can get a lot of information. We thought that this was a great injury model for when a person has a coordination failure”