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How BYU researchers plan to learn more about the NFL’s most common injury

Brigham Young University partners with 3 universities in $4 million NFL study to examine hamstring injuries

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BYU running back Tyler Allgeier runs past Boise State defenders for a touchdown.

BYU running back Tyler Allgeier runs past Boise State defenders for a touchdown during game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021.

Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News

What is the most common injury suffered by NFL players?

The answer is hamstring injuries, with nearly 75% of such injuries causing players to miss time on the field.

It’s a problem that researchers are Brigham Young University and three other universities want to help remedy.

BYU has partnered with the University of Wisconsin–Madison, the University of Michigan and the University of Virginia on a $4 million NFL grant to study the prevention and treatment of hamstring injuries among football players, the school announced Monday in a news release.

The multiyear project is the first NFL-funded study on hamstring injuries, according to a news release on NFL.com.

“At the league, we recognize the significant burden hamstring injuries have on our elite athletes year after year, and have dedicated resources to analyzing the occurrence and type of lower extremity injuries to better identify ways we can further reduce them,” Dr. Allen Sills, NFL chief medical officer, told NFL.com.

The four research teams will use state-of-the-art quantitative imaging, on-field biomechanics, and computational analytics to identify risk factors associated with initial and recurrent hamstring injuries. The data collected will help determine an individual’s risk assessment.

The project is also designed to do the following:

  • Determine what musculoskeletal characteristics might make an athlete more disposed to hamstring injuries.
  • Identify better processes for injury mitigation and prevention.

Every hamstring injury is about to be thoroughly documented with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), said Brett Mortensen, BYU Athletics’ coordinator of physical therapy and rehabilitation.

“We’ll look at the muscles, look at strength, look at previous injuries and then make models to see if we can come up with a predictive algorithm for who might get hamstring injuries for the first time,” Mortensen said in the news release. “If we can identify those things, then we can identify better ways to intervene and hopefully prevent injuries.”

The study is being led by Bryan Heiderscheit, professor of orthopedics and rehabilitation at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

BYU’s team of researchers will include exercise science professors Wayne Johnson, Sarah Ridge and Dustin Bruening. They will begin collecting baseline MRI data on football player hamstrings during the summer of 2022 and continue each summer through 2025.

“All four institutions will be doing the same thing, which will mean MRI scans for 500 athletes per year and ultimately 1,000 to 1,400 player data years,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be a lot of data and it will give us ample opportunities for mentoring BYU students to set them up for future research prospects.”

Of the schools participating in the project, BYU is the only one that doesn’t have a medical school. But BYU’s MRI facility and proven experience with musculoskeletal imaging qualified BYU to join the project, Mortensen said.