Of the memorable moments from this year’s football season — freshman receiver David Bell’s physics-defying catches, the rise of third-string walk-on quarterback Aidan O’Connell or the heartbreaking loss in the annual Old Oaken Bucket Game — one aspect remains ingrained in Purdue fans’ minds: injuries. The team suffered a total of 18 injuries this year, many of which happened to key players.
Evalyn Massey, a freshman in the College of Health and Human Sciences and certified personal trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine, questioned the potential causation for such a high volume of injuries.
“A lot of sports teams are more focused on how much weight you can lift, not, ‘Do you have proper form, are you warming up and cooling down properly?’” Massey said. “If you’re doing the same types of exercises every day, your body can get worn down, and it can get extremely easy for you to be injured.”
Massey works in preventative training, helping her clients strengthen specific parts of the body that are liable to injury.
While injuries are nothing new to football or sports in general, high-profile injuries experienced this season raised many eyebrows.
Doug Boersma, associate athletics director of sports performance, does not see this season as being indicative of any larger problem, though.
“I know a lot of attention was drawn to the injuries that we had in the football season,” Boersma said, “but I don’t think that, if you would look at other places in the country, that you’re not seeing an increase in injury rate in athletics (overall). We do a lot of training. I’m not by any means (trying) to suggest that we overtrain, because we’re doing the same things that other places are doing.”
While the department has done the same things in terms of training, the department of sports medicine has implemented various technological advancements in the past few years. One such advancement is the implementation of Fusionetics.
Fusionetics relies on two-dimensional motion capture to log data points as athletes perform specific movements and exercises, according to Fusionetics’ website. After data points are logged, the system can identify deficiencies in the bodies of athletes, so the athletic trainers can begin to deal with those problems. The system is used to prevent injuries, maximize training output and identify areas of the body that need further training.
When Fusionetics alerts physical trainers to potential health risks in student athletes, the sports medicine members work together to alter their workouts accordingly.
“Somebody (who) has poor lumbar or thoracic movements, we’re not going to put them under a squat bar, because it’s not healthy for them,” Boersma said. “We would work on flexibility and other movements to develop proper mechanics.”
Every team also has access to Nord Boards, which are used for muscle balances, especially in an athlete’s hamstrings.
Many teams at Purdue also use GPS technology such as PlayerTek, that tracks athletes’ movements throughout practice.
“(It tracks) how much volume a certain athlete goes through on any given day, whether it’s a practice or a game,” Boersma said. “How many starts and stops and verticals and changes of directions. That’s all the information that we get through our GPS technology.”
Even with these technological advancements, injuries persist. That’s where Purdue’s unique approach to sports medicine comes in.
“Our department looks at sports medicine very holistically,” Boersma said. “The thing that we’re working on is we’re trying to troubleshoot this stuff. So we’re looking at the nutrition of our student athletes. We’re looking at the mental well-being of our student athletes and we are making sure that training is collaboration between your strength coaches and your athletic trainers.”
The department of sports medicine at Purdue is, according to Boersma, at the forefront in the country for its approach to sports medicine as a whole. Within the department, there are athletic trainers, physical therapists, dieticians, sports psychologists, team physicians and strength coaches.
Unlike some universities, where different members of each area may report to different people, Purdue’s entire sports medicine department reports to the same people and all work collaboratively for the benefit of each student athlete.
“Sometimes at other places the dietician might report to the strength department, or the sports psychologists might be outsourced from another hospital,” Boersma said. “The positive part of (Purdue’s holistic approach) is we get together and we meet.”
When a student athlete at Purdue is injured, every concentration of sports medicine is put into action. While physical therapists and physicians focus on treatment and rehabilitation, dieticians and sports psychologists are immediately involved in order to supplement the athlete in other areas. As these players will be spending less time with their team, officials work with them to maintain a positive mental state. While athletes are injured and sedentary, their meal plans are modified in order to keep them in the best possible shape, Boersma said.
Students in Purdue’s College of Health and Human Sciences are learning to further this holistic approach in the realm of preventive sports medicine. Massey, who is majoring in kinesiology with a concentration in clinical exercise training, is learning many things that supplement the knowledge she has already gained through becoming a physical therapist.
Within the major, students are given a hands-on approach to working with injuries and other ailments.
“I’ll be doing a lot of hands-on work with clients, making plans with them, implementing the plans, and that’s the majority of what my coursework will be,” Massey said. “I think they do a great job, because not only do they give you an intro to a bunch of different topics and allow you to further certain things, but you get the hands-on experience.”
While the major does not focus on athletic injuries or sports medicine specifically, implementation of complex plans of recovery and rehabilitation as well as preventative training fits right into the culture the department of sports medicine tries to promote.
As new sports seasons begin, Boersma said members of the department will continue using innovative techniques in order to promote health and safety for all student-athletes.