Jan 29, 2015
The Mind’s Role in Injury Risk

Most everyone agrees that distracted driving is risky. In one of Thursday’s Feature Presentations, “Brains and Sprains: What’s the Connection,” Charles Swanick, PhD, ATC, FNATA, Associate Professor in Kinesiology and Applied Physiology at the University of Delaware, will discuss how distraction and other mental factors can also add to injury risk in athletics.

“I’ve studied proprioceptive awareness–along with others in the field–for 10 or 15 years,” Swanik says. “Through that, I’ve seen that people can have different amounts of laxity and it doesn’t necessarily predict or correlate with how functional they are. This made me think there must be something else that causes people to either recover or keep having more and more sprains, because we can’t consistently say that it’s a loose joint causing the problems.

“Interestingly, one area that hasn’t been tested much is what happens in the brain in relation to sprains and injury risk,” he continues. “But a few years ago, I used neurocognitive tests for study and found that people who had ACL sprains scored a little bit lower–so thinking about the brain’s role in coordination got us started in this direction.”

Along with discussing how natural tendencies may influence a person’s injury risk, Swanik’s presentation will highlight research related to the role stress and distraction play. “Stress changes a person’s muscle tone,” he says. “And if you have anxiety, any small change in your motor coordination is amplified. So what used to be a smooth throwing or running motion becomes somewhat exaggerated and uncoordinated.”

“Many in the sports medicine profession already pay attention to their athletes’ nonverbal cues,” Swanik continues. “If you work with a team for one season, you get a lot better at providing care for them because you can pick up on small nuances that allow you to detect when a person is stressed or inattentive. Those cues make a difference on approaching rehab and return to practice, or even deciding what to work on that day. So we’re going to talk about research that suggests these factors can impact injury risk, rather than blaming it all on anatomy.”

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