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University of Pittsburgh presents sports injury research findings

June 03, 2004

INDIANAPOLIS, June 3 - Studies conducted at the University of Pittsburgh's Neuromuscular Research Laboratory (NMRL) may provide better understanding of the prevention and treatment of certain sports-related injuries and athletic performance. Pitt researchers are presenting findings of several studies this week at the American College of Sports Medicine 51st Annual Meeting in Indianapolis.

Following are summaries of three NMRL team presentations, involving shoulder injuries in throwing athletes, hip strength in golfers and ACL injury prevention.

Throwing Athletes' Shoulders Differ From Non-Throwers' Shoulders

New University of Pittsburgh research showing that throwing athletes have certain differences in shoulder blade position and orientation compared to non-throwing athletes may help doctors better understand and manage shoulder injuries in throwing athletes.

While examining injuries associated with the throwing motion in throwing athletes, athletic trainers and doctors routinely evaluate the position, orientation and three-dimensional movement of the shoulder blade or scapula. The scapula acts as the stable base of support between the arm and trunk while still allowing for the high degree of movement needed from the upper extremity during the throwing motion. However, minimal research has been done to quantify scapular position and orientation in throwing athletes compared to non-throwing athletes.

A study done at Pitt's Neuromuscular Research Laboratory has shown that experienced throwing athletes do indeed have certain scapular position and orientation differences compared to non-throwers, suggesting that throwers develop chronic adaptation for more efficient performance of the throwing motion.

The findings may provide clinicians with a better understanding of types of adaptations that may be observed in normal, healthy throwing athletes and thus potentially lead to more effective injury prevention and treatment.

A two-year grant from NFL Charities provided support for the study, which enrolled 21 healthy, uninjured throwing male athletes to compare to a control group of 21 healthy, uninjured male non-throwers. All study subjects performed specific related motion tasks while sophisticated biomechanical and neuromuscular assessment tools monitored certain scapular positioning, orientation and movement during the assigned tasks.

People With Stronger Hip Muscles May Make Better Golfers

Golfers who demonstrated stronger hip muscles also reported having better golf performances compared to golfers who showed weaker hip muscles in a study at the University of Pittsburgh's Neuromuscular Research Laboratory.

To determine if there is any difference in hip strength among golfers with different proficiency levels, the relationship between hip strength and golf handicap, and between hip strength and self-reported driving distance, researchers enrolled 82 golfers and divided them into three groups based on their proficiency levels according to self-reported driving distance and handicap. Using laboratory neuromuscular strength assessment tools, researchers studied each participant's isometric hip abduction and adduction strength in side-lying with the hip joint in neutral position for both legs.

Left hip abduction strength was significantly higher in the better golfers' groups, and in the best golfers' group, all hip movements tended to be stronger. The results of this study demonstrate the importance of hip musculature for stability of the trunk and the balancing forces transferred between lower body and upper body extremities during the golf swing. This may be related to overall golf performance.

Unplanned Reactive Jumps Should be Included in ACL Injury Research

Injuries to the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), the main stabilizing ligament in the knee, are common among athletes, up to eight times more common in female athletes. Research into the risk factors of non-contact ACL injury prevention often calls for study participants to perform planned vertical stop-jump tasks.

However, investigators at the University of Pittsburgh's Neuromuscular Research Laboratory say that ACL injury prevention research protocols should include unplanned reactive jumping tasks to better simulate actual athletic competition.

In the Pitt study, 26 male and female basketball players performed both pre-planned stop-jump tasks and unplanned stop-jump tasks upon reaction to sudden visual cues during the jump, which represents more actual athletic competition. During the reactionary jumps, the players demonstrated a decreased knee flexion angle with a greater deceleration component compared to when they performed pre-planned stop-jump tasks.

The findings suggest that reactive jumping tasks should be included when researchers are trying to determine the at-risk movement patterns for non-contact ACL injuries.
A grant from the Jewish Healthcare Foundation provided support for the study.

About the University of Pittsburgh's Neuromuscular Research Laboratory

To learn more about these and other research projects at Pitt's NMRL, please access The facility is housed within the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's (UPMC) Sports Performance Complex, in the Center for Sports Medicine. NMRL faculty include those from the sports medicine program at Pitt's School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and the orthopaedic surgery department at Pitt's School of Medicine.

University of Pittsburgh Medical Center

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