What is your primary area of interest in terms of teaching or research?
My primary focus is on the prevention of knee injuries, specifically to the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL), during sport and physical activity. More specifically, we investigate the influence of movement efficiency / control on one’s future risk of suffering an ACL injury. In addition, our research examines ways to correct poor movement efficiency / control in an effort to reduce one’s risk of injury and improve their functional performance.
How did you become interested in this specific area?
As a undergraduate student majoring in Athletic Training at San Diego State University, I had always had a special interest in injury prevention. However, it wasn’t until I went to graduate school that I became interested in pursuing research in this area. As a masters student in EXSS at UNC, I began my first research in the area of injury prevention as I studied the influence of different exercise interventions on shoulder proprioception and neuromuscular control. I didn’t become interested in studying ACL injuries until I began my doctoral training at the University of Virginia. My advisor at that time provided me with a recently published article that had reported females were at much greater risk for suffering ACL injuries compared to males participating in the same sports. This sparked questions regarding why would female athletes be at greater risk than male athletes for sustaining an ACL injury. From this point forward I became very interested in trying to understand what factors may increase an individual’s risk for suffering an ACL injury and what could be done to prevent these injuries from occurring.
How does your area of interest impact the public?
In young Americans, sport and recreation-related lower extremity injuries result in over 3 million emergency room visits a year. Treatment costs just for anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) knee injuries exceed $2.5 billion annually. Significant societal costs also stem from the accelerated progression to early-onset osteoarthritis and subsequent disability which commonly follow. Given the associated frequency, cost and disability, it is important to understand risk factors and evidence based prevention strategies for ACL injuries.
Research has demonstrated that certain movement patterns can increase one’s risk for suffering an ACL injury. However, it is not clear why individuals display these high risk movement patterns. We are currently conducing a series of studies to better understand the underlying neuromuscular factors that predispose individuals to display high risk movement patterns. In addition, we are what type of exercise interventions are needed to address these underlying neuromuscular factors.
Neuromuscular factors, such as flexibility, strength, muscle activation, are modifiable through properly prescribed exercise interventions. Thus, by correcting the underlying neuromuscular factors associated with high risk movement patterns we may reduce an individual’s risk for future ACL injury. The findings from these studies can provide insight into the development of injury prevention programs that can be implemented in youth sport settings and have a positive impact on keeping individuals physically active.