Cleats and Feet: How HPU Research Changes the Way We Walk and Play

Dec 24th, 2019

Cleats and Feet: How HPU Research Changes the Way We Walk and Play

This story is featured in the Fall 2019 edition of the HPU Magazine. Discover below how HPU’s Congdon School of Health Sciences conducts award-winning research with big name brands.

Faculty and students in HPU’s Congdon School of Health Sciences are conducting research to improve the lives of athletes, the elderly and everyone in between.

Their work is made possible by stellar faculty and state-of-the-art facilities such as the Human Biomechanics and Physiology Lab, as well as the Virtual Reality and Clinical Gait Analysis Lab.

Drs. Kevin Ford, Yum Nguyen and Jeff Taylor have worked with Adidas for three years to help design the next innovative pair of football cleats to prevent injuries on the field.

“We looked at how the athletes performed biomechanically in the lab while wearing two different types of cleats,” says Ford, professor of physical therapy. “They wore one cleat while jumping, landing and doing other football-related movements while the motion analysis system and force platforms measured how they performed.”

High school athletes from the community wore two different specially designed cleats for the study. Now, Ford and his students are analyzing why one cleat worked better than the other for certain athletes.

“We found the best cleat design tends to differ based on the position an athlete plays,” says Ford. “A player that is typically a lineman favors one style of shoe, while a quarterback or running back prefers a lighter shoe.”


Becoming an International Scholar

Tommy Hockenjos, a first-year physical therapy student, participated in Ford’s research for two years through the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program, which pairs students with faculty over the summer to conduct intensive research.

“I was involved in a diverse part of the study,” says Hockenjos. “The first year, I did a lot of the biomechanics cleat analysis on the turf. The second year, I was doing body compositions with DXA scans, so I was looking at bone mineral density, muscle mass and body fat.”

Hockenjos presented his findings at the American College of Sports Medicine annual meeting where industry leaders from across the globe gather.

“This is why I came to HPU,” says Hockenjos. “Presenting my research at an international conference has been incredible.”



VR Treadmill Helps the Elderly

Through their virtual reality research program, Drs. Lisa Zukowski and Renee Hamel want to help the elderly stay more mobile and avoid falling.

“We know that cognitive, sensory and physical changes with normal aging are associated with an increased risk of falling. However, traditional fall prevention programs for the elderly are primarily focused on just the physical aspects of walking and balance to prevent falls,” says Hamel.

That’s where the Virtual Reality and Clinical Gait Analysis Lab comes in. Research participants use their virtual reality treadmill to simulate activities these individuals may encounter in daily life, such as walking around obstacles or talking while walking. Wireless eye-tracking glasses also allow these researchers to record what participants are visually attending to while they perform a task.

“Research has shown that exercise training in older adults can improve both mobility and cognition,” says Zukowski. “We believe that the visual interaction component of virtual reality exercise training used in our study could stimulate the parts of the brain that we rely on during walking in everyday life. This could result in even greater improvements in safely carrying out daily activities while walking.”


From Wheelchair to Walking

Andrea Douden, a second-year physical therapy student, is assisting Zukowski and Hamel with the research. And she’s also taking her passion of helping people with neurological conditions to the community.

Every Friday afternoon, first and second-year physical therapy students treat patients that are referred to HPU’s Pro Bono Physical Therapy Clinic in a free “neuro clinic” led by Hamel.

One of those patients is Felix Bautista from Salisbury, North Carolina. He was referred to the clinic from his doctor after suffering a significant stroke two years ago, which forced him to use a wheelchair. Today, he’s beginning to walk and lose the need for his wheels.

“Look at me — I’m able to walk and drive better because of everyone here,” says Bautista about HPU faculty and students in the lab. “These students are like brothers and sisters to me, and Dr. Hamel has been awesome. It’s been a blessing, and  God put me here for a reason.”