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Undergraduate researcher looks for ways to prevent and recover from running injuries

July 27, 2016

Wenrick puts sensors in a runner's shoes
Mackenzie Wenrick places sensors in a research participant's shoes to measure force while he runs.

As a rising sophomore and runner at Gannon University, Mackenzie Wenrick hit the research jackpot when she learned she would do a summer research project with Robin Queen, associate professor in biomedical engineering and mechanics and director of the Kevin P. Granata Biomechanics Lab. Right in line with her athletic endeavors, Wernick is researching how fatigue affects a person’s loading symmetry when they run.

To collect data for her project, Wenrick sends participants out on a two-mile run and, at least a week later, a four-mile run to see if there’s a difference in the runner’s loading symmetry from left to right at certain points in each of those runs. She measures the ground reaction force through in-shoe sensors that are placed inside the running shoes. The data is reported back to Wenrick on an iPod throughout the subject’s run.

With this data, Wenrick may be able to help runners like herself. “We’re really trying to see if there is asymmetry after a certain distance and from there we can ask: how is this going to affect training patterns and how can we use this data to prevent injuries in runners,” she said.

For Wenrick, this summer program has been beneficial in figuring out a future career path. “This summer research has allowed me to look at a specific area of biomedical engineering. I’ve discovered that full body mechanics is really interesting to me, so it’s helped me to find something specific that I could potentially do in the future.”

Wenrick likes that her research can go beyond just finding an answer; it could help make someone healthier. “All of the work that I’m doing in the lab has the goal of preventing athletic injuries as well as improve scientific understanding of running,” Wenrick said.

Mackenzie Wenrick prepares to collect data about a research participant's run
Mackenzie Wenrick prepares to analyze a research participant while he runs to collect data for her project.

“The goal of our work is understanding both how to prevent injuries and how to restore normal motion following an injury across the lifespan, from young athletes to older adults who want to remain physically active,” said Queen, who is overseeing Wenrick’s research. “Having students, like Mackenzie, in the lab who are passionate about injury prevention and understanding how people move and adapt following injuries is essential to the success of the lab.”

Wenrick will be among dozens of undergraduate researchers who will present their findings at Virginia Tech’s 2016 Summer Undergraduate Research Symposium on July 28 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Goodwin Hall, located at 635 Prices Fork Road. Students from multiple organized summer programs will present their research in a poster format. Each program will also nominate one exemplary student or project to present their research in a showcase oral session. The community is welcome to attend.

The Office of Undergraduate Research organizes the Summer Undergraduate Research Symposium with support from the Fralin Life Science Institute and the Office of the Vice President for Research.

Written by Caleigh Shaffer, of Radford, Virginia, a senior majoring in public relations in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

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