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  • NHRC Research Studies Link Between Injury and Fitness

    ​KISSIMMEE, Florida – Dr. Karen Kelly, a physiologist with the Naval Health Research Center’s (NHRC), discussed her recent work examining the relationship between training requirements, fitness and musculoskeletal injuries, during a breakout session at the Military Health System Research Symposium (MHSRS) Aug. 30. 

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    “Musculoskeletal injuries cost the Marine Corps millions of dollars and approximately 365,000 lost duty days each year,” said Kelly, who is part of NHRC’s Warfighter Performance Department. “Previous epidemiological studies have found a significant association between injuries and low fitness levels; however the causation is not well understood. Identification of modifiable risk factors of injury which include body composition and fitness levels may help to reduce injuries which translates into improved readiness.”

    To examine the relationship between musculoskeletal injuries and fitness test, Kelly and her team examined archival data from 2011 to 2016 for 28,829 male Marine recruits at Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) San Diego. The injury data sorted by injury type—stress fracture, fracture, and soft tissue injuries—and how the injury was classified—traumatic, new/overuse, or pre-existing overuse injury. The injury data were studied in relation to each physical fitness test conducted at MCRD.

    “The most common injuries were sprain, strain, and stress fractures with 17, 13, and 11 percent prevalence rates, respectively,” said Kelly. “We also found these injuries were classified as new/overuse, 36 to 61 percent, or traumatic in nature, 28 to 40 percent.” 

    Researchers also found conditioning hikes were the primary cause of injuries, with over 31 percent related to the hike. Running claimed 12 percent of the reported injuries and there was a significant difference in performance between injured and uninjured recruits’ fitness during running events.

    According to Kelly, Marines who remain uninjured during basic training typically outperformed Marines who reported at least one injury across all three fitness tests conducted at MCRD. This included higher overall composite scores for each fitness test and faster run times. 

    “Future research by my team will examine whether specific events during basic training result in higher injury rates, whether there’s a specific period during training, early or later in training, when an injury occurs, and whether injury rates can be predicted from performance on specific fitness test components,” said Kelly. “The answers to these questions will add value to developing a predictive model of injury risk.”

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     ​​(Karen Kelly, Ph.D., takes questions from the audience after her breakout session at the 2017 Military Health System Research Symposium)

    As the DoD’s premier deployment health research center, NHRC’s cutting-edge research and development is used to optimize the operational health and readiness of the nation’s armed forces. In proximity to more than 95,000 active duty service members, world-class universities, and industry partners, NHRC sets the standard in joint ventures, innovation, and translational research.


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