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Sports Medicine for Soldiers: UPMC Builds First-Of-Its Kind Research Lab at Fort Campbell Aimed At Reducing Injuries and Enhancing Performance


In the first facility of its kind, advances in sports medicine science made for the athletic field are being applied to the battlefield and used to protect the nation’s elite soldiers from injury.

Officials at Fort Campbell, Ky., today hosted the grand opening of the military base’s new Injury Prevention and Performance Enhancement (IPPE) Laboratory. The lab was designed and built by University of Pittsburgh sports injury researchers to scientifically identify injury risk factors for more than 900 air assault soldiers of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division. The lab, potentially the first in a network of similar facilities proposed throughout the military, will use its data to develop training and conditioning programs for injury prevention and performance enhancement.

With a two-year, $2.75 million grant from the Department of Defense (DoD) awarded to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), the IPPE Lab is operated by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh/UPMC’s Neuromuscular Research Laboratory (NMRL). In fact, the new lab is modeled after the NMRL, a world-renowned laboratory for sports injury prevention and performance enhancement, located in the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine in Pittsburgh. Since 1990, the center’s scientists have been studying and publishing research data involving athletes’ body positioning and neuromuscular control as it relates to injury.

Sports Medicine for Soldiers

“The similarities between training elite athletes to compete in their sport and training elite soldiers to defend our country prompted us to embark on this mission: to reduce the high incidence of unintentional musculoskeletal injury in soldiers during training and combat situations, to optimize safe return to readiness following injury, and to improve the elite soldiers’ physical conditioning programs for enhancement of physical performance,” said Scott Lephart, Ph.D., A.T.C., director of the NMRL and the new IPPE Laboratory.

“This is an extraordinary opportunity to match our passion for the care of athletes with our military’s need,” added Dr. Lephart, who is associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine’s department of orthopaedic surgery, associate professor at Pitt’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, and chairman of the school’s department of sports medicine and nutrition.

Musculoskeletal injury is the primary cause of disability in the military and accounts for 33 percent of Veterans Administration costs and 18 percent of Army hospitalizations, according to a 1999 report published by the DoD Injury Surveillance and Prevention Work Group.

“Like professional football players and Olympic gymnasts, the elite soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division are driven individuals who are required toperform intense tactical maneuvers at high speed and velocity such as running,jumping, landing and cutting – often with impaired vision and at night during both training and active duty. The risk and incidence of lower extremity injury is high,” said Division Surgeon LCT Rusty Rowe, MC, SFS, DMO.

“We see similar ankle, knee, back and shoulder injury patterns with athletes who repeatedly perform the same type of movements. If we can better identify the injury risk factors and validate effective training and conditioningprotocols for soldiers, we can make significant improvements in their physicalfitness and effectiveness and help keep them safe from injury,” added Dr. Lephart.

Joining Sports Medicine and Military Partners
The IPPE Lab project was arranged by, and is being managed through, UPMC’s Innovative Medical and Information Technologies (IMITs) Center, a not-for-profit subsidiary of UPMC. While Dr. Lephart and his research team focus on scientific application, the unique team of experts at IMITs focuses on facilitating the exchange of resources and ideas and the establishment of long-term relationships between UPMC, the University of Pittsburgh and the military.

“IMITs acts as a critical liaison between the DoD and organizations that aim to apply their research innovations to the needs of the military,” said Scott Gilstrap, president of the IMITs Center. “We help our partners navigate the complicated contracting and security requirements of a project like this lab for the benefit of the men and women who defend our country. What we learn through this partnership with the military will ultimately result in better care for all patients.”

Inside the IPPE Lab
The IPPE Lab currently is housed in a converted gymnasium on base while a permanent laboratory facility is being built at Fort Campbell.

The researchers will scientifically identify injury patterns, causes and risk factors. For example, knee and ankle injuries in this soldier population have been linked to awkward and dangerous landing positions during parachuting, fast-roping and rappelling. Intense climbing, pulling and overhead activity can alter shoulder mechanics over time, leading to injuries.

Using sophisticated biomechanical modeling techniques and equipment, such as a motion monitor electromagnetic tracking device, researchers can study precise physical movement patterns, forces, joint angles and range of motion on test subjects while they perform task simulations. Based on the data compiled, intervention exercises will be designed to improve specific muscle strength, flexibility, joint position, balance and neuromuscular control to prevent injury.

Reducing injuries through protective training and performance enhancement can reduce lost time and costs due to disability and medical expenses, according to the Armed Forces Epidemiological Board and the Injury Prevention and Control Work Group.

“This collaboration has significant potential for optimizing the effectiveness and readiness of U.S. military forces,” said LCT Rowe. “The 101st is pleased to be supportive of the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC research team by housing the lab here and providing our own experts and soldiers as research partners,” he added.

Return to Readiness for Wounded Warriors
The IPPE Lab is one of two components of a larger DoD initiative to create a Wounded Warrior Rehabilitation Center at Fort Campbell that will include a return-to-readiness physical therapy and athletic training program to rehabilitate injured soldiers. The goal of the Wounded Warrior Rehabilitation Center is to improve the overall fitness of military personnel for tactical training and combat, according to LCT Rowe. Vanderbilt University will support the UPMC research initiative by contributing expertise for the Return-to-Readiness program.

This work was supported by the U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command under Award No. W81XWH-06-2-0070. Opinions, interpretations, conclusions and recommendations are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by the U.S. Army.

About UPMC
The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) is the largest integrated health care enterprise in Pennsylvania and one of the leading nonprofit health systems in the country. It is the only organization that has earned honor roll status in both U.S. News & World Report’s 2006 “America’s Best Hospitals” and “America’s Best Health Plans” rankings. Widely recognized for its innovations in patient care, research, technology and health care management, UPMC has transformed the economic landscape in western Pennsylvania. The region’s largest employer, with 43,000 employees and $6 billion in revenue, UPMC comprises 19 tertiary, specialty and community hospitals, 400 outpatient sites and doctors’ offices, retirement and long-term care facilities, an insurance plan with nearly 800,000 members, and commercial and international ventures. About 5,000 physicians are affiliated with UPMC, including more than 2,300 employed physicians. For more information, visit


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