California State University, Northridge kinesiology professor William Whiting knows injury is impossible to avoid in the world of sports, but he does everything in his power to minimize the risk. As a professor, he does that by contributing to the academic and professional field of knowledge and by preparing his students for careers working with athletes.
Whiting, who has co-authored books such as “Dynatomy: Dynamic Human Anatomy” and “Biomechanics of Musculoskeletal Injury,” recently published an article in the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s Strength and Conditioning Journal titled “Biomechanics of Common Musculoskeletal Injuries in American Football.” It was a review of the literature on force and mechanical energy sustained by football players and the mechanisms of common injuries, especially of the ankle, knee, hip, shoulder and cervical spine.
Whiting, who teaches in the College of Health and Human Development, said biomechanics is the merging of two areas — the biological sciences of the medical field and the principles of mechanics based in engineering. Since the human body functions as a mechanical system in many ways, it’s an appropriate merging of two areas of study, he said.
“In a traditional physics class, a student would learn about the mechanical laws and principles of Sir Isaac Newton,” Whiting said. “[In kinesiology], we take those laws and principles and apply them to the way the human body moves, as sometimes the effect of the laws of physics are modified due to the limitations of biological systems of organisms.”
His article focused on the biomechanics of the human organism specific to American football, where athletes are exposed to significant mechanisms of injury.
“The bigger they are, the faster they run, the harder they hit, the more energy there is — the energy needs to be absorbed somewhere, and it’s absorbed by the tissues in the body,” Whiting said. “If the limits of a particular tissue are exceeded, it’s going to break, tear or fail.”
If professionals who work with athletes can identify mechanisms of injury, athletes may be able to lower the risk of common sports-related injuries, such as knee injuries, Whiting said.
“With ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injuries of the knee, one of the most common mechanisms [that causes the injury] is valgus of the knee — where the knees angle inward, especially when in a squatting position,” he said. “So, if we can keep athletes out of that position through training, conditioning and technique practice, there’s less of a chance of injury. There’s already a large body of evidence that shows girls and younger women are two to seven times more likely to have higher ACL injuries than men — the question is, why? There are quite a lot of intervention studies where girls and women made fundamental changes in movement strategies and technique, and there was a marked reduction in ACL injuries.”
Whiting said there is not enough attention paid to injury prevention, and that if he “had a million dollars to spend on ACL research, it would be for prevention programs.”
He hopes his students will help reduce the rate of injuries when they work with athletes in their professional careers, he said.
“I’m trying to build an arsenal of knowledge of these mechanisms,” Whiting said. “None of this is rocket science — if you know the anatomy and you know how the parts work, and you know the fundamental mechanical principles, you can figure out the rest of it.”
Kinesiology major and senior David Yost, a student of Whiting’s, said studying the biomechanics of injury developed his knowledge of how injuries are sustained, their mechanisms and how certain specific injuries can be diagnosed and prevented.
“In kinesiology, there is a great deal of emphasis on the physiological components of exercise, but there are limited chances to learn about how injuries may influence human movement,” Yost said. “The exposure that this class gave me regarding the biomechanics of injury has helped me to understand injury on a level I had not previously known. This class is one of the first that has had a focus on a large component of therapeutic-related work that is injury.”
John Paul Cacapit, also a kinesiology major and student of Whiting’s, said learning about the biomechanics of injury will help him in his career as a physical therapist working with athletes, especially football players.
“[Because of his class], I am able to analyze and have a better understanding of contributory factors and mechanisms of injury,” Cacapit said. “I can provide ways for football players to improve technique, protect themselves and educate them on potential risks of injury in football.”