Apr 3, 2019
Unique Sports Medicine Facilities
Meaghan Beck and John Abt

There aren’t many places where the musculoskeletal, biomechanical, physiological, and neurocognitive needs of military personnel, athletes, women, and jockeys are addressed under the same roof. The Sports Medicine Research Institute (SMRI) at the University of Kentucky is one of them.

The idea for the SMRI was born in 2015 when Scott Lephart, PhD, accepted the position as Dean of UK’s College of Health Sciences (CHS). Created out of a partnership between the CHS, the College of Medicine, UK Healthcare, and the UK Department of Athletics, the 10,000 square foot, state-of-the-art space opened its doors in June 2017. It’s housed in the former football training area in the E.J. Nutter Training Facility on campus.

To fund the SMRI’s many initiatives, we collaborate with academic, military, and nonprofit institutions to support multi-institutional grant submissions and to increase the uniqueness and translational importance of our research. In addition to grants, philanthropy plays a key role at the SMRI by offsetting the challenges encountered by an uncertain funding environment. To promote donations, we utilize social media and work directly with the CHS’ Director of Advancement and UK’s Office of Philanthropy.

Collectively, the vision of the SMRI is to empower people to achieve long-term health and wellness by:

  • Characterizing health, injury, and performance profiles to inform training practice and policy
  • Developing strategies for occupational, sport, and lifestyle injury prevention and performance
  • Validating interventions for musculoskeletal and concussion treatment and performance optimization
  • Implementing interventions to achieve long-term health and wellness.

Faculty, staff, graduate student research assistants, and interns, as well as 40 affiliate instructors, collaborate to fulfill this mission. External to the university, the SMRI regularly works with other academic institutions, military commands, and military treatment facilities. Because we are a grant-funded institution, these connections are critical to developing and supporting our expansive research agenda.

The SMRI’s research is organized into four main initiatives: Active Duty Military/Veterans, Athletics, Active Women’s Health, and Jockey/Equestrian. Here is a description of each one:

Active Duty Military/Veterans: The goal of this initiative is to protect and care for our armed forces. Its research team is currently funded by two projects with the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). The first is through the Office of Naval Research and incorporates physical performance, musculoskeletal health, cognitive performance, and psychosocial health to address operational preparedness in U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina-where we have a satellite laboratory. A second project is funded by the U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command to study a novel sensorimotor ankle rehabilitation program at William Beaumont Army Medical Center at Fort Bliss and the University of North Carolina. For the veteran’s component, which is still in development, our objective is to build upon previous research to develop interventions to improve overall veteran health and decrease the risk and severity of chronic diseases.

Athletics: Current athletic research projects within the SMRI are focused on identifying new rehabilitation approaches to maximize patients’ outcomes to common musculoskeletal conditions. Another area being studied is understanding the contributing factors to future musculoskeletal injuries caused by insults to the central nervous system.

Both of these projects are examples of unique opportunities for faculty and students in the SMRI to collaborate with UK Athletics’ staff, including the Director for Applied Sport Sciences and sports medicine clinicians. This collaboration is fostered by the SMRI’s location in a UK Athletics’ facility, which promotes a natural relationship with the athletic department and the chance to support their research needs.

Active Women’s Health: This initiative works to enhance UK HealthCare’s efforts to address chronic disease and poor health in Kentucky. It investigates relationships between musculoskeletal injury history, aging, health behaviors, and quality of life to provide solutions to some of the most pressing health issues in women: osteoarthritis, obesity, and chronic diseases.

Jockey/Equestrian: Lexington, Kent., is considered the “Horse Capital of the World” and is a significant contributor to the horseracing industry. Developed out of a relationship with The Jockey Club and The Jockey Guild, the vision for this initiative is to be the place where riders come to optimize performance and athletic recovery and to be a resource to conduct jockey/equestrian protection, safety, and performance research.

For example, one project we are working on involves integrating concussion testing with jockeys/equestrian athletes. A medical management plan was created, and baseline concussion testing was started at several tracks in Kentucky. Our ultimate goal with this endeavor is to establish a standard that could be universally accepted.

Beyond our research initiatives, the SMRI serves the surrounding community through outreach. We conduct workshops, presentations, and collaborations with community organizations to share evidence-based strategies and knowledge of wellness.

A third offering involves providing fee-for-service performance plans and testing services to the general public, which are not billable to insurance. These include: aerobic power, anaerobic power, balance assessment, body composition, blood analysis, concussion baseline, lactate threshold, motion analysis, resting metabolic rate, speed and accuracy assessment, and strength.

Supporting our efforts in research, outreach, and services are the state-of-the-art equipment and features of the SMRI. The facility is divided into several different areas.

The musculoskeletal space contains an isokinetic dynamometer, handheld dynamometers, electromyography, and diagnostic ultrasound. In addition to these laboratory-based tools, the SMRI also utilizes a range of portable equipment to allow for assessments to be done in the field, such as wireless inertial measurement units, a portable metabolic system, and a FitLight Trainer portable agility and reaction time system.

The physiological performance space includes treadmill and bike ergometers with both cart and portable metabolic systems and wearable technology to analyze anaerobic power and capacity, aerobic capacity, and other performance metrics. This space contains a horse racing simulator, as well.

The center of the laboratory houses a biomechanical analysis space. This includes a 14-camera 3-D motion analysis system, a mobile imbedded dual force plate system, and an integrated wireless electromyography system to capture a variety of physical tasks.

A dedicated neurobehavioral laboratory space offers a quiet environment to collect neurocognitive, postural stability, and functional assessments. To do this, we use computerized dynamic posturography, virtual and augmented reality systems, light reaction training, and computerized neurocognitive exams.

Finally, the SMRI has a large rehabilitation and exam space. This is available for clinical and rehabilitation research.

For others interested in developing a sports medicine research facility at a college or university, we recommend starting with a strategic plan. By creating one in the beginning, we were able to sort out organizational capacity, such as human resources, building and equipment, having diverse streams of revenue, and establishing collaborations. The strategic plan also helped us identify our industry position and environment; develop our mission, vision, and values; assess strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats; and define objectives and operational tactics for immediate, short, and long-term goals. This was a critical step in getting to where we are today.

To find out more about the SMRI, go to https://www.uky.edu/chs/smri or like/follow @uksmri on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Meaghan Beck, MPA, is the Associate Director for Operations at the University of Kentucky's Sports Medicine Research Institute (SMRI). She can be reached at: [email protected].

John Abt, PhD, is the Director of the SMRI. He can be reached at: [email protected].

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