Research News

UW-Madison's McGuine focused on ‘bigger picture’ of injury prevention

June 15, 2016

Tim McGuine’s research on concussions in high school sports is the type of work that captures the attention of parents and young athletes alike, as the risk associated with head injuries has garnered significant media attention in recent years.

This past winter, the issue received even more of the spotlight with the release of the movie, “Concussion,” starring Will Smith.

But if you start asking McGuine for his thoughts on this hot-button topic, he steers the conversation down a different path.

Tim McGuine mug shot
“When I speak with parents, they often want to learn more about head injuries and concussion risks, because that’s what we so often hear about in the media,” says McGuine, a Distinguished Scientist with UW-Madison's Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation. “But we really need to focus on the bigger picture when it comes to injury prevention.”

McGuine says he routinely explains to parents how their son or daughter is more likely to miss significant time, and have more serious, long-term impairments from a knee or ankle injury.

Adds McGuine: “Concussions are an important topic. But concussions are sucking up all the air in the room when it comes to discussions about sports injuries -– and we need to think about the well-being of the entire student-athlete.”

It’s this perspective of identifying and understanding the range of risk factors, preventative measures and outcomes for sports injuries that McGuine brings to his work with UW-Madison’s Athletic Training Program, which is housed within the School of Education’s Department of Kinesiology.

“We need to think about how an ankle sprain or knee injury can affect quality of life down the road -- and start thinking about these health issues in a preventative manner, like we do with diabetes or heart disease or obesity,” says McGuine.

It’s athletic trainers, notes McGuine, who are most often on the front line of these important efforts to prevent injuries from occurring and to help those who do get hurt. Athletic trainers are vital health care professionals who collaborate with physicians to provide preventative services, emergency care, clinical diagnosis, therapeutic intervention and rehabilitation of injuries and medical conditions.

Athletic Training Program logoMcGuine, who received a master’s degree from the Department of Kinesiology in 1986 and a Ph.D. from the School of Education in 2005, started his career in the 1980s as an athletic trainer working with secondary school athletes. Over the years, he received additional schooling and further developed his field of expertise en route to embarking on a research career. Yet he continues to consistently work with high school athletes across the area, while remaining close to the Athletic Training Program. He is a frequent guest speaker in AT Program classes and serves as a mentor to UW-Madison AT students with clinical and research interests.

“Tim’s work with the Athletic Training Program is invaluable,” says Andrew Winterstein, a clinical professor with the Department of Kinesiology and director of its Athletic Training Program.

On the research side of his career, McGuine was recently part of a team of UW-Madison investigators that examined for the first time the prevalence of sports specialization in high school athletes -– and what that might mean for a competitor’s health.

McGuine and colleagues from across the university produced a groundbreaking study that was published earlier this year in The American Journal of Sports Medicine. Titled “Prevalence of Sport Specialization in High School Athletics,” this one-year observational study found that high school athletes from a smaller school were less likely to specialize in a sport than those attending a large school. The researchers also found that highly specialized athletes were more likely to report a history of overuse knee or hip injuries.

“Sport specialization is a hot topic in sports medicine, yet there is a severe lack of empirical data that exists about the topic,” says David Bell, the lead author of the study who is an assistant professor with the Department of Kinesiology’s Athletic Training Program. “Physicians are way ahead of the research in this area and, anecdotally, they report that they are seeing more kids in their clinics that have injuries that used to be only found in older athletes.”

McGuine has also been involved in research in recent years examining: the effects of ankle injuries; new football helmet technology; and the value of limiting the amount of contact in football practices across Wisconsin.

Most recently, it was announced that McGuine would be spending parts of the next two years with UW-Madison researchers studying whether a ring of padding in headgear might help prevent head injuries in soccer. The research will enlist Wisconsin high school soccer teams to wear headgear to see whether or not the equipment can decrease concussions. Soccer players generally do not wear any form of head protection but concussions are the most common injury in high school soccer for females.

Andrew Winterstein
“Through this study, we want to learn if we can confidently tell a parent that this headgear can reduce the risk of concussion,” says McGuine.

Many of McGuine’s research projects rely heavily on athletic trainers in the field to record important data on injury incidents. This work also offers valuable insights to UW-Madison students who are in training to enter health care professions.

“UW-Madison’s Athletic Training Program benefits greatly by having this kind of work done in our community and being available for our students to learn about and see up close,” says Winterstein.  “Tim took a non-traditional path to his research career. The questions he seeks answers to via his research came about very organically through his work in the field. What he produces is true translational research that is meaningful to both our students and clinicians.”