Oliver wins best paper award as research reputation grows

March 6, 2017

Gretchen OliverGretchen Oliver, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the College of Education’s School of Kinesiology. Her prolific publication record (148 manuscripts and published abstracts) will soon have another addition. At the recent National Convention of Pediatric Research in Sports Medicine (PRiSM) in Dallas, Oliver won the Hank Chambers Best Scientific Paper Award for her presentation, “Effects of a Simulated Game on Upper Extremity Kinematics and Muscle Activation Among Various Pitch Types in Youth Baseball Pitchers.” The manuscript has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics.

“I was quite surprised to win the award,” Oliver said. “For six years now my research and publications have focused on normative data for injury prevention among youth softball and baseball athletes. However, now it seems that there is more awareness of not only the injuries but also of the research being conducted. A lot of my injury prevention focus comes from my sports medicine background. I try to integrate rehabilitation theory into training and conditioning of the youth athlete in an effort to prevent injury. In order prevent injury we must first understand the basic mechanics of throwing or pitching in youth. Then once we establish norms, we can begin to implement injury prevention programs.”

Oliver’s award-winning scientific paper presentation explored how overuse injuries in young throwing athletes, particularly baseball pitchers, are understood in the context of the biomechanical principles that govern the throwing motion. In a normal throwing shoulder, proper stability and orientation of the pelvis and scapula are needed for efficient energy transfer during pitching. Fatigue of the pelvis and scapular stabilizers can impair pitching performance, and place excessive demands on the throwing arm which leads to injury. However, biomechanical differences between pitch types throughout a simulated game have not been investigated in youth pitchers. Therefore, the purpose of the paper was to examine differences in pelvis, torso, and upper extremity kinematics and muscle activations between pitch types in youth baseball pitchers during a simulated game.

In addition to her hard work, pioneering use of normative data on throwing athletes, and prodigious publication record, Oliver is also becoming well known through her association with the world’s best-known orthopaedic surgeon, Dr. James Andrews. Along with many other prominent individuals, Dr. Andrews is a member of the Sports Medicine & Movement Laboratory (Oliver’s Lab within the School of Kinesiology) Advisory Board.

“Because of our association with Dr. Andrews, I am beginning to get a lot of respect from my research colleagues in the field,” she said. “A lot of Sports Medicine doctors and researchers are becoming more aware of what is being produced out of the Sports Medicine and Movement Laboratory. I very much appreciate Dr. Andrews and his commitment to our Advisory Board, as well as his mentorship and collaboration.”

The Sports Medicine and Movement Advisory Board meets twice a year to discuss the continual focus of the lab, as well as ongoing research and publications. Oliver said that, although the award was for a paper regarding baseball pitching mechanics, the primary focus of the Sports Medicine and Movement Lab is to collect normative data on softball athletes.

“Dr. Andrews has stated that softball is one of the most neglected sports in the literature. There is a steady increase in softball participation, as well as an increase in the rate of injury. To have the Sports Medicine and Movement Lab at Auburn University be committee to softball research is huge.”

In addition to the support of Dr. Andrews, Oliver said she is also surrounded by outstanding and hard-working graduate students in the lab.

“These students are really great,” she said. “Just between finals and the start of school this year they got so much done. And, as a result, they are starting to gain their own notoriety. They know they’re going to have to get published and there’s no better way to do that than to be part of ongoing, relevant research that is drawing national attention. With all of this going for us, plus our collegiality and leadership here in the School of Kinesiology, it’s hard to imagine a better place to work.”