Be Well: Championing Integrative Sports Medicine

NWHSU | January 24, 2018

Why pro athletes and Olympians are betting on Northwestern Health Sciences University’s holistic approach to training and treatment.

Northwestern Health Sciences University, the state’s leading chiropractic and holistic medicine school, looks bucolic and unassuming from the outside. Its sprawling Bloomington campus has all the modern facilities: classrooms, laboratories, and clinics, anchored by a healing garden. Look more closely, however, and you’ll find a couple of Minnesota’s best-kept secrets: The Sweere Center, a multidisciplinary clinic that boasts one of only a few 3D biomechanics labs in the country, and its Human Performance Center, an integrative sports care home base for four amateur and pro athletic teams including the Minnesota Vixen, the longest continuously operating women’s tackle football team in the nation.

“I like to think they’re performing as intensely as NASCAR,” says Dr. Timothy Stark, director of the Human Performance Center. “You have this race car that has to perform at 200 miles-per-hour lap after lap, right? There’s no way it could perform as this high-performing machine without its integrated team: the fuel specialist, the tire guy, the windshield expert. These athletes are taking a beating on the weekend and coming back just as hard.”

Stark, a ‘96 NWHSU alum and the first American chiropractor to complete a residency in sports injury and rehabilitation, returned to his alma mater as the dean of the chiropractic program after a number of teaching stints around the world. “Our former chief of clinics, Dr. Scott Munsterman, had a sports running chiropractic program here on campus and realized quickly that of all the clinicians in the Bloomington system, he was the busiest,” says Stark. “So we said, ‘How do we expand this and do more?’” Stark traded his dean hat to build, lead, and direct the Human Performance Center, drawing on his vast knowledge and network of industry partners.

With Stark at the helm, the Center is comprised of four fellows and a support staff—where teamwork is stressed and egos are checked at the door. The onsite facility opened in 2014 to provide students (mainly chiropractic) with a deeper expertise in sports care. Through its services, students of all disciplines have the opportunity to perform collaborative research, support the community through clinical care, and provide integrative treatments to sports organizations.

In addition to the Vixen, the Human Performance Center works with the Minnesota Freeze (a United States Australian Football League team), the USA Tug of War, the MN Alliance Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competition team, and the British Virgin Islands Olympic Committee.

“The British Virgin Islands Olympic Committee will fly in three, four, sometimes five days at a time,” says Stark. “We’re with them for eight to ten hours a day for interventions, and we’ll collaborate with the Sweere Center to do a biomechanics assessment.”

Dr. Gregory DeNunzio, the clinical coordinator of the Sweere Center Biomechanics Division and chief of staff of the Sweere Center Clinic, explains the relationship between the two centers: “The idea of our center is really two-pronged: to conduct research, and offer gait and movement analysis to the general public,” he says. “Tim [Stark] refers people to us, like the sprinters from the British Virgin Islands, and I’ll take care of them in the biomechanics lab.”

The 3D biomechanics lab has 12 infrared cameras that track sensors placed on various landmarks of the body. The patient is then digitized and a skeleton representing the patient appears on the screen. There’s a force plate under the treadmill that tracks the forces generated at various joints each time the feet strike.

“All of this instrumentation allows us to see angles and forces in three dimensions at the ankles, knees, hips, pelvis, and lower back, comparing right and left sides of the body to check for asymmetry or dysfunction,” he says.

In more extreme cases, the analysis has aided in gait-strengthening for a stroke victim, and even improved the gait of a patient with a fused toe.

“I want to get the point across that this isn’t just for athletes,” he says. “If you have balance issues or chronic conditions, a 3D analysis of your gait will help get down to the root of the issue.

“Sure, you can go to a running store and jump on a treadmill, but who can say they’ll break you down to a skeleton?” View the article here.