A baseball pitcher notices that his performance has suffered after returning from a knee injury last year. His fastball has dropped from 95 mph to 87 mph, making it more hittable. As a player who is left feeling like he’s letting down his team, he wonders, “What happened?”
He steps into High Point University’s new Human Biomechanics and Physiology Lab and is greeted by a faculty member doing research on just that. The pitcher is filmed using the motion capture cameras, and his weight transfer during the delivery is monitored using force plates. Using this technology, it is apparent that his stride length is too long, he strikes the ground with the heel of his front foot and his lead knee is unstable as his weight is transferred onto it. These factors cause the rest of his body’s movements to be slightly “off,” a poor kinetic chain. Once these factors are identified, the same equipment is used to train and correct the pitching motion. Also, the strength equipment will be used to work on his knee instability. In a short time, this pitcher will again be pitching at 95 mph or greater.
This is just one example of how the new HPU Human Biomechanics and Physiology Lab will be used.
The lab is the now the home to the department of physical therapy. The vision of the facility began in 2011 with the arrival of Dr. Eric Hegedus, professor and founding chair of the department of physical therapy, and was furthered with the arrival of Dr. James Smoliga, associate professor of physiology, and Dr. Kevin Ford, director of the lab and associate professor of physical therapy. The site planning, however, began only a few months ago, a timeframe that seems impossible when you step foot into the newly renovated building. But when a dedicated group of individuals combined with an establishment committed to education are involved, nothing is impossible.
“High Point University never says no,” says Hegedus. “At no other university can you go from an idea to months later having a place like this. They turned our vision into a reality, and doing so in that amount of time is unreal. That kind of service and dedication and smooth operation blows me away.”
This lab is one of the most advanced of its kind with state-of-the-art equipment and 13,150 square feet. Dr. Daniel Erb, dean of the School of Health Sciences, revealed that the lab is home to HPU’s first Institute, The Institute of Human Health and Sports Science Research, at the grand opening. The object of the Institute is to provide an organization where faculty and clinicians in healthcare can work together by performing interdisciplinary research for the benefit (such as injury prevention, performance enhancement and rehabilitation) of active individuals.
There are three parts that make up the lab: biomechanics, physiology and a clinical aspect, where patients with orthopedic and sports injuries can be rehabilitated or trained to avoid injury.
But what does human biomechanics and physiology actually mean? It is the study of the human body’s major functions, skeletal, cardiovascular and muscular systems – how they move and react. The lab is made up of faculty members in the department of physical therapy who look at clinical questions through the lens of the foundational sciences of biomechanics and physiology.
The interdisciplinary and cohesive nature of the faculty and their dedication to the students in a facility with the best equipment takes experiential learning to a new level. The group of esteemed faculty comes to HPU from institutions such as Duke University, Johns Hopkins University, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and the University of Otago in New Zealand.
The equipment includes a 24-camera motion analysis system, an environmental chamber that allows for temperature and altitude change, a DEXA scanner for bone density testing and an anti-gravity treadmill. This equipment allows for students to be involved in ground-breaking and impactful research on things like injury prevention, rehabilitation and the effects of supplements on performance and recovery. The research will benefit active people from professional athletes to weekend warriors who suffer pain and injury by providing new examination and treatment methods.
“Why is this lab significant? Because it will change lives,” Erb told a crowd of university friends and family during the opening ceremony of the facility.”It already has improved performance of athletes here and in the community and worked to decrease injuries. And it won’t just impact those we call athletes. Research here will be translated to people outside of athletics to improve their lives, too.”
Faculty members are already conducting groundbreaking research in the lab and determining their ability to predict performance and/or injury. Two other funded studies will begin soon on spinal mobilization and the effect of different shoes on lower extremity biomechanics.
In the future, faculty hope to conduct research that will benefit the aging baby boomer population, who are staying active longer and are thus more prone to injury. There are also plans to one day help people with diseases such as cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s disease, or those who have suffered a stroke by finding interventions that will help improve their quality of movement.