Ball State to study ways to prevent recruits' leg injuries, keeping soldiers healthy

Topic: College of Applied Sciences and Technology

November 28, 2007

A Ball State University biomechanics professor is close to beginning work on a project that could help the Army reduce losses of new recruits due to lower leg injuries suffered during basic training.

Eric Dugan, director of Ball State's Biomechanics Laboratory and an assistant professor of exercise science, is overseeing the project in cooperation with the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine.

The goal of this research program is to eliminate stress fractures in initial entry training in the military, a problem estimated to cost the Army in excess of $10 million annually in medical costs and lost duty time.

Bone physiology research that leads to improved bone health of men and women will enhance military readiness by reducing the incidence of stress fractures during physically intensive training and is also expected to reduce the risk of osteoporosis and other bone disorders later in life.

"Musculoskeletal injuries have the greatest impact on military health and readiness when compared to all other medical complaints," Dugan said. "Many of the new recruits suffer from stress fractures that may be caused by a variety of reasons, including the weight they are carrying, the training regimens or their shoes. The loss of a major portion of recruits is a major problem for the military."

The two-phase project will initially examine the effects of fatigue, structural limitations, load carriage and exercise on various biomechanical aspects of human motion and performance. 

The second phase will explore physical training protocols that may be implemented as preventative strategies to reduce injuries. Research will build on previous work at Ball State to investigate musculoskeletal function in space flight and with aging populations.

Dugan's research team, which will include a group of graduate students, will use sophisticated 3-D motion capture video technology in the Biomechanics Laboratory in the Health and Physical Activity Building. The laboratory, a division of the School of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise Science, conducts research to increase the understanding of mechanical and neuromuscular characteristics of human movement.

The first phase of the federally funded project, announced in 2006, has a budget of $1 million. The second phase, budgeted at $1.2 million, was recently announced by U.S. Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.).

Dugan's proposal is currently under review by the U.S. Department of Defense, and work should begin in early 2008.

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