University of Calgary

Probable cause

UToday HomeJuly 30, 2012

Listening to Winne Meeuwisse describe sports injury is kind of like listening to someone describe how to bake a cake. If you’ve got all the ingredients of a sports injury, it’s likely going to happen.

This is the premise behind the University of Calgary Sports Injury Prevention Research Centre (SIPRC), to get to the bottom of injuries which are, to use Carolyn Emery’s terms, “predictable and preventable,” and to look for ways of preventing them from occurring.

Faculty of Kinesiology researchers Winne Meeuwisse, MPE, MD, PhD, Dip Sport Med, and Carolyn Emery, BSc(PT), MSc(Epidemiology), PhD, have worked at the highest level of sports and at the grassroots level: From pee-wee hockey to the NHL, and from high school soccer to FIFA. This summer, Meeuwisse will be at the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games, and Emery will be at the Paralympic Games. They will be working for the IOC’s medical injury surveillance group, studying the “distribution and determinants of injuries.”

“In layman’s terms, we’re looking for the patterns of injuries and the causes,” says Meeuwisse. “If you find a pattern, you say, ‘Oh, that’s nice.’ But if you can get at the causes – if you can determine that an injury is happening because of X,Y,Z – then you can actually do something about it.”

This will be Emery’s second Paralympic Games. She says working with Paralympic athletes sometimes provides more of a challenge because of specialized equipment and physiological conditions you don’t find in the able-bodied population.

“It’s very gratifying work, especially when you see the immediate results of the research,” says Emery. “In Vancouver, for example, they made changes to the sledge hockey blades and equipment that almost eliminated cuts and injuries the players were suffering. Those changes were based on injury surveillance work that was done in the previous games.”

Emery and Meeuwisse will be staying in the athletes’ village and gathering information from the medical teams of the various countries and the specialized clinics run by the London Organizing Committee. This basic work, although not glamorous, is crucial in creating a safe Games experience for the athletes.

“In the context of the Games, if they understand the patterns and numbers of injuries, they can better plan for emergency trauma care,” says Meeuwisse. “From a research side, however, the more interesting part is figuring out how we can make it safer.”

Genuinely excited about the prospect of these Games, Emery says that while the scope of the work seems overwhelming, the experience is unforgettable.

“The thing that’s fun about working with the more elite levels of sport is that everything is taken to the extreme,” says Meeuwisse. “People are pushing the limits because they know it’s only going to take a small increment of performance to succeed – to be a medallist. Working with athletes who push it to that level is challenging, and that makes it fun.”

Read the in-depth Q & A conversation with Meeuwisse.