Aug. 4, 2023

Dinos Athletics helps researchers get a leg up on traumatic knee injuries

Better rehabilitation is on the horizon for athletes worried about their ACL
Court sports like volleyball have a higher risk of traumatic knee injuries among athletes
Court sports like volleyball have a higher risk of traumatic knee injuries among athletes. Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

For athletes, playing court and field sports like soccer, basketball and volleyball always comes with the risk of career-altering or even ending knee injuries.

That’s why researchers at the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Kinesiology have teamed up with Dinos Athletics to identify the root cause of these injuries and develop better rehabilitation, both physically and mentally, for those who experience them.

“Seventy-five to 80 per cent of athletes think they’ll be back to sports after their first injury; after a second injury, that percentage decreases dramatically,” says Dr. Matt Jordan, PhD, CSCS, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and a member of the McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint Health at the Cumming School of Medicine.

Matt Jordan, co-lead, integrative neuromuscular sport performance research

Matt Jordan, co-lead, integrative neuromuscular sport performance research.

Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Jordan’s research takes place in the faculty’s Strength and Power Lab and employs whole-body biomechanical and neuromuscular assessments to discern how traumatic knee injuries, like a rupture of the ACL (a ligament that helps stabilize the knee joint), affects muscle strength and healing. He says about 55 per cent of athletes will return to competition after an ACL injury, but many show long-term performance decrements and are more than 10 times more likely to sustain a second injury, as compared to the first; his work focuses on decreasing the chances of a secondary injury.

As a former strength and conditioning coach working with Olympic and professional athletes, Jordan now co-leads a team of researchers from multiple disciplines across UCalgary, alongside Dr. Kati Pasanen, PhD, a sport injury researcher in the Faculty of Kinesiology. Together, the team is working to develop rehabilitation programs that go beyond just “walking it off.”

“We’ve got experts in psychology, computer science, clinical biomechanics and sports medicine all working on this project together,” Jordan says, adding the transdisciplinary approach is integral to his research as social and psychological factors like gender analysis and mental wellness drastically alter how an athlete recovers, post-injury.

The research partnership with Dinos Athletics represents an integral piece of the puzzle in establishing more accurate benchmarks for healing. Jordan describes the previous year as a discovery pilot period for the research and suggests 2023 will involve putting their findings into action with the help of the Dinos.

“From the athletic therapists, to the Sport Medicine Centre, to the Dinos athletes themselves, there’s a growth mindset and an openness to bring science and practice together,” he says.'

Richard Hesketh, Head Coach, Strength, and Conditioning

Richard Hesketh, Head Coach, Strength, and Conditioning.

Victoria Pizarro, Advancement

Rich Hesketh, strength and conditioning head coach for the Dinos, has been closely involved in ensuring new scientific discoveries in injury-prevention and healing make their way to the athletes. Hesketh, who oversees 15 different sports for Dinos Athletics, says he meets on a weekly basis with the sports-science team to cover research, athletic therapy and strength conditioning and to discuss new trends in injury-rehabilitation. The practical, hands-on experience from athletes and coaches like Hesketh aids in leading research questions that, in turn, provide better programming for student-athletes and experimental-learning opportunities for students.

A world-class athlete in his own right, Hesketh has represented Canada on 11 different national teams, including the Francophone Games, the Commonwealth Games and the Pan American Games. He was also the head strength and conditioning coach for the Calgary Flames for 19 years, making his expertise on the matter of knee injuries indispensable. Hesketh’s position with Dinos Athletics is realized through the Start Something Fund for Athletics, which aids in enriching sports and sports-science within UCalgary through collaboration and direct funding.

Jordan conducts his research in the Faculty of Kinesiology’s Strength and Power Lab

Jordan conducts his research in the Faculty of Kinesiology’s Strength and Power Lab.

Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

According to Hesketh, the biggest roadblock for athletes on the road to rehabilitation is compliance to injury-recovery regimens and mental wellness. “Every athlete is different, and each person responds differently to stressors, injury and training, which is why it’s so important that the research is transdisciplinary,” he says. “The more communication you have, the more opportunity there is to help athletes come back from an injury feeling, in many ways, even stronger than before.”

UCalgary’s Sport Medicine Centre currently offers an informal ACL support group for Dinos athletes struggling with recovering, both physically and mentally, from traumatic knee injuries.

While his work in the Strength and Power Lab is a crucial aspect to injury-prevention, Jordan says there really is no “I” in this team of interdisciplinary researchers. When it comes to kinesiology and the value added by Dinos Athletics, the team approach is fundamental to the success of the project.

“The muscular testing we do [in the lab] is important, but it’s just one component,” he says. “This kind or research takes a village, so the team is really what makes all the difference.”

The Start Something Fund for Athletics is a groundbreaking investment of $4.33 million over five years —   championed by UCalgary President Ed McCauley — that aims to elevate the athletics community by focusing on four strategic areas: creating opportunities for women in coaching; seeding additional revenue generation; enhancing sport-science delivery and research through collaboration with the Faculty of Kinesiology; and providing direct funding to teams for improved program delivery. As Canada's entrepreneurial university, UCalgary is committed to fostering resourcefulness, learning from experience and exchanging knowledge across disciplines.

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