The Long Road
The greatest and most important goals in life take a proportionally significant amount of time and effort to achieve – endeavouring to earn a PhD, for example. Such an undertaking is not for the faint of heart, but rather for the few among us who strive to change the way of the world. They take the long road.
CSI Calgary Director of Strength and Conditioning, Matt Jordan, has reached a milestone in his long road – with the successful defense of his PhD thesis, Neuromuscular Function in Alpine Ski Racers with ACL Reconstruction: A Return to Sport Framework. Jordan began the journey over four years ago to address what he saw as a major deficiency in ACL injury management for alpine skiers.
Having worked with the women’s alpine team from 1999-2003 and then again in 2010, Jordan came to understand that recovery from ACL injuries was often evaluated primarily on subjective observations from the athletes and their support teams. He wanted to do a better job of designing programs and making a better determination on the state of injuries.
“The main goal was to develop some better testing,” explains Jordan. “To develop a simple test in the training environment that is more sensitive than what was typically done.” The idea was simply to figure out how to better design training programs to get the athlete back to the best possible functional level.
To achieve this end, Jordan developed a testing protocol using force plates to measure asymmetry between the athlete’s injured and non-injured knees. This objective measurement helped the athlete and support team understand how recovery progressed. Moreover, it served to caution the athlete about returning to snow too early.
“Most people assume that with an ACL injury it’s a 10-month recovery and then you’re back on the hill. But the reality is that many skiers, despite getting back on snow, still have deficits that persist after recovery,” says Jordan.
Former alpine skier Kelly VanderBeek worked closely with Jordan after she suffered a catastrophic knee injury that kept her out of the 2010 Winter Olympics. “It was really interesting to see the imbalances and compare my two knees,” says VanderBeek. “It wasn’t just in how strong I was but also in how quickly I could react.”
Although the focus of his research was centred on ACL injury and recovery, Jordan also focused a great deal on the importance of assembling a strong multi-disciplinary team to support the recovery process.
Jon Kolb, Director of Sport Science and Innovation at Own the Podium, says that Jordan has a way of understanding that it’s a team approach. “He recognizes that there needs to be a lot of people involved in bringing an athlete back from injury,” says Kolb.
Ultimately, the value of Jordan’s novel research is in how the support team works together to help the athlete return to competition and what that decision is based on. “When the burden of decision is on you to decide when an athlete returns to sport, it’s better to have an objective measure to work with than just winging it,” he says.
Jordan also understands how dramatically an ACL reconstruction surgery can affect an athlete’s career and life. “Athletes are forever changed because of major injury,” he says. This resonated strongly with VanderBeek, who says she went through a phase during her recovery where all she cared about was being able to play with her future kids.
Jordan’s hope is that his research will impact how ACL injuries are managed by facilitating a thoughtful and intelligent return to sport framework. “I think I planted a seed in enough people’s brains that we need to try and do this in a different way,” says Jordan. “This is just the beginning.”
Jordan now plans to return working with athletes, take on more mentorship and continue his research. Reflecting on this big accomplishment, he realizes he’s happy to be done but also very motivated to take things to the next level. “Doing my PhD was a big endeavour,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to do this and I’m glad I went down the long road.”
Canadian Sport Institute Calgary: @csicalgary
Written by Kristina Groves: @kngrover
Photo by Dave Holland: @csicalgaryphoto