DU engineers, computers help athletes recover quicker from injuries

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DENVER — It’s not often you hear the term engineering and athletics in the same sentence, but that’s what the folks at the University of Denver are doing thanks to their innovative human dynamics lab.

By combining science and sports, they are creating a new way to look at human movement and the role it plays in injury and recovery.

A combination of athletes, coaches, sports medicine experts and engineers come together in the DU human dynamics lab.

“How we move affects everything about our lives,” lab director Bradley Davidson said. “Whether it’s older folks having joint replacements and need therapy or younger athletes that need injury protection. It all pertains to movements and that’s what we do here in the lab.”

Using cameras, motion-capture systems and other technologies, engineers study how muscles and bones move.

“It takes about two days to collect the entire team and collect all the markers and three researchers as well,” Davidson said.

The program of studying athletes at DU started several years ago with the women’s swimming team, where, thanks to the lab, they were able to study athletes and come up with methods to decrease injuries.

“We implemented a warm-up for the team based on mobilization and activation to correct postures we saw with our swimmers that was not ideal,” assistant athletic director of sports medicine Julie Campbell said.

“What we’ve seen is less swimmers visiting the training room and that is one of the biggest improvements and the biggest impact this work has had,” Davidson said.

The goal of all this, taking the science and the engineering of this program and applying it to the weight room, where proper movements and conditioning adds to healthier athletes and better performance.

“I think it’s making student-athletes aware of their movements,” strength and conditioning coach Kathryn Whartenby said. “Being able to show them in the lab the video of them landing a single leg jump and say, ‘That’s not right.’ Your knees caving in. This is not a very good position for you to be in.”

The next step is sharing the technology with others.

“We are expanding it beyond the university,” Davidson said. “We focus on different teams and one of the teams we’re focusing on is alpine skiing, and that’s been our goal, to get out of the lab and use it in the field.

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