UW researchers awarded $4 million from NFL to study hamstring injuries

MADISON, Wis. — Researchers at the University of Wisconsin will be leading groundbreaking international research on hamstring injuries thanks to a $4 million award given to them by the NFL.

“This will be the largest hamstring study ever conducted in the world,” said UW Professor of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation Bryan Heiderscheit.

Heiderscheit said the NFL put out a call for research proposals on hamstring injuries about one year ago. Proposals were submitted from across the world and UW made it to the finalists. UW will now be working alongside the University of Virginia, Michigan and BYU to provide data for the Australian Catholic University and Springbok Analytics in Virginia to better understand this injury in the years ahead.

“Any athletes that are involved in sprinting sports like football, soccer, track and field, basketball, all these sports are going to have these sorts of injuries occur,” he said.

Heiderscheit said hamstring injuries are one of the most common and costly injuries athletes endure, yet there is still little research on it. He said the two biggest predictors that someone will likely get a hamstring injury are age and if they’ve already faced the injury before, both of which, are not modifiable.

The money, distributed over four years, will allow the researchers to understand what the athlete’s muscles and body composition looks like and how their bodies move on the field.

“We are going to bring them in and look at their muscle characteristics using different MRI techniques, we are working with the athletic trainers and strength conditioning staff to monitor how the athletes run and move on the field. So we will be using these different movement sensors to detect what that looks like,” Heiderscheit said.

All of this will help them understand why hamstring injuries happen so often, who is most vulnerable to getting them, how to increase healing time and how to prevent it from happening repeatedly.

“Once you have one, you’re at a pretty high risk of getting it again and again and again. That’s where, from the NFL standpoint, they want to be able to understand this injury better and develop strategies that are going to help reduce this reoccurrence.”

The research could potentially help get injured athletes back into the game as quickly and safely as possible. Heiderscheit said this research could provide a roadmap of understanding other types of muscle injuries in the future.

The first year, the researchers will be rolling out the technology and applying them to athletes. The final three years, researchers will be collecting data.