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UI study examines prevention of knee injury in female athletes
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa women's basketball team is working
to improve its record this season, but not just in the win-loss column.
That's because the basketball team, along with gymnastics and soccer players
under the direction of the women's athletic department, are trying to reduce
athletic injury by participating in a UI College of Engineering Iowa Spine
Research Center study to examine the relationship between muscle agility and
knee injury in female athletes. UI researchers say that the study is a response
to coaches who have noticed a relatively high occurrence of knee injuries
in female athletes worldwide.
Leif Hasselquist, project researcher and a doctoral student in biomedical
engineering in the UI College of Engineering, says the fact that female athletes
in general suffer a higher incidence of knee injuries compared to male athletes
influenced the group to look at the role of balance in preventing injury.
During the test, subjects stand on a wooden device resembling a doctor's scale.
Wires are taped to the subject's legs to measure electrical impulses emitted
by the muscles. Then, with the athlete standing on one leg, a hidden system
of weights suddenly is dropped, pulling a strap draped across the athlete's
The athletes are instructed to keep standing, even though the weight drop
throws them off balance, says Jennifer Ocif, master's degree candidate in
biomedical engineering and a member of the UI women's soccer club. "In
women, many knee injuries occur when the athlete doesn't expect it, through
a sudden stop or change of direction."
The project's principal investigators, Malcolm H. Pope, professor of biomedical
engineering and Iowa Spine Research Center director, and Dr. John P. Albright,
orthopedic surgeon and director of sports medicine services at UI Hospitals
and Clinics, are also using a Nintendo-like computer device to evaluate how
well muscle response can be learned. When a target appears on a computer screen,
the subject must move her body quickly to duplicate the move. Pope says that
the device shows researchers how fast trunk and knee muscles can be contracted.
"Is balance or agility training a good way to prevent injury? Can we
train muscles to react faster? Will stronger muscles and faster reaction times
prevent injury? Those are some of the things we're trying to determine,"
Ocif notes that preliminary findings suggest that athletes' leg muscle responses
can be improved through regular balance training sessions as short as 10 to
15 minutes in length.
UI Women's Basketball Coach Angie Lee says of the study, "It's very
significant that this kind of research be done. I can't believe how many young
females this (knee injury) happens to. This study is something that I'm extremely
The study is being supported by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation, the
National Institutes of Health and the University of Iowa. The Iowa Spine Research
Center involves a variety of researchers, including engineers, economists,
pharmacologists, surgeons, epidemiologists, research scientists and students,
engaged in assessing clinical effectiveness and outcome in diagnosing and
treating spinal diseases and providing guidance in spinal research and patient