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NMSU research to improve movement in athletes and recreationists

When a coach at New Mexico State University asks a team member to do a specific drill, the athlete knows it's supposed to help improve performance. The competitor may not realize however that complex biomechanical research is being done to improve the effectiveness of the drills performed, prevent injuries and improve the movement of athletes and non-athletes alike.


Professor David Keeley looks at an image generated by his ultrasound machine.
Biomechanics professor David Keeley demonstrates how to use an ultrasound machine for musculoskeletal imaging. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

David Keeley is an assistant professor of biomechanics, or the mechanics of motion in the human body, for the human performance dance and recreation department at NMSU. Keeley has been conducting research regarding the biomechanics of movement in athletes since 2006.

Recently, Keeley conducted a study that involved analyzing shoulder movement in baseball pitchers in order to improve performance and prevent injuries.

In order to look at shoulder movement, Keeley used a camera system that tracks reflective markers on the body at super high speed. Next, he examined the three-dimensional rotations and angles involved when using the shoulder. Those specific movements were then correlated to things like performance, injury or discomfort.

"We take their movement data and try to relate it the level of pain they experienced," said Keeley. "From that we modify their movement based on the parameters that are causing pain and work to either eliminate or reduce their pain level."

Much of the research in kinetics works from a retrospective model that looks at an injury that has already occurred. Keeley however, is focusing on a predictive model that assesses the likelihood of injury and works toward reducing that likelihood.

Keeley is currently working on an assessment tool in order to identify individuals who have a high probability of getting injured. Once these individuals are isolated and factors contributing to their risk of injury are detected, coaches and trainers can work on strengthening these weak points to decrease a person's risk of injury and hopefully help them avoid injury altogether.

Factors that contribute to injury can be identified using biomechanics. Keeley uses biomechanics to model each segment of the body mathematically to determine the center of mass. As people train, their body segment parameters change; as these parameters change the center of mass changes. A person may move in a way they have moved hundreds of times before, but as their bodies change, the forces and torques that are exerted on a specific body part are different due to that change in center of mass.

Keeley is currently developing a study to see how these mass ratios relate to improving performance and how they contribute to injury, especially the development of lateral epicondylitis or "tennis elbow."

In this case, Keeley will look to see how mass ratio relates to changes in the extensor carpi radialis brevis tendon, or ECRB tendon, and see if the ratio can be related to the development of tendon enlargement or function. He plans to look at images of the tendon changes using an ultrasound machine.

Improving performance and preventing injury are worthy goals, but Keeley's research has benefits that expand beyond the individual athlete.

"The average injury per athletic exposure in most athletes is about one in every 310. If we can reduce the number of injuries, then we reduce the health care costs associated with those injuries," Keeley said.

This research could prove not only beneficial to NMSU and Aggie athletes, but can benefit high school athletic programs and the public in general. In fact, the data gathered from the research can help those involved in any type of athletic or physical activity avoid injury and improve their performance.

"The ultimate goal is to help people feel better, participate longer and enjoy what they do. There are very few people who don't get more enjoyment out of doing something if they get better at it, and if they can avoid injury, they can see their performance improve faster," Keeley said.