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Grooms Uses Brain Imaging to Map Injury's Effect

Grooms Uses Brain Imaging to Map Injury's Effect
CHSP's Dustin Grooms and Holzer Radiologist Phil Long examine a patient's structural brain images. Lauren Dickey

Though curiosity may have killed the cat, it galvanized the direction of Dustin Grooms’ athletic training career. After earning his B.S. at Northern Kentucky University, the CHSP assistant professor, who came to Ohio University in 2015 after earning his doctorate at Ohio State University, worked as an athletic trainer for several years.

“I never thought I’d do research at all.” Grooms said. “I thought I’d be a clinician.”

But then Grooms signed up for an athletic training internship with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2007 in what turned out to be a crucial season for both Grooms and Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer. The year before, during the Bengals’ first playoff game in 18 years against the Pittsburgh Steelers, lineman Kimo von Oelhoffen tackled Palmer at knee level, tearing the quarterback’s anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), an injury known for ending athletic careers. However, Palmer vowed to return as the Bengals starting quarterback for the 2006-2007 season.

“It was a good experience, and I learned a lot,” Grooms said. “But when Palmer got injured, I found myself thinking, ‘Here we are, we’re the NFL, we have everything you’d want, we give six treatments a day, nothing is held back,’ and even after all of that, Palmer always said that he never felt the same. He ended up tearing it again a few years later. So I was starting to think that maybe at some level, we were missing something.”

The NFL enacted the “Carson Palmer Rule” in 2006, prohibiting rushers from blocking at the knees or below when a passer has both feet planted, and after leaving the Bengals, Grooms grew more and more curious about why athletes with ACL injuries tend to repeat that injury—as Palmer did in 2014—even after successful rehabilitation.

“That’s when I decided I needed to go back and get my Ph.D. and figure out what we were missing,” said Grooms. “I thought it was not so much in the structure of the knee, because the surgery had gotten really good, so I started looking at how the nervous system adapts to this injury, and that’s what led me down the path to brain imaging.”

Grooms, along with Brian Clark and the team at the Heritage College Ohio Musculoskeletal and Neurological Institute (OMNI), just received a $414,625 NIH grant to study how proprioception—the body’s ability to sense movement and where things are without visual feedback—is affected by injury and the part it plays in successfully rehabilitating people with lower back pain. This work will be accomplished in partnership with Holzer Health System’s Department of Radiology. The research builds on studies Grooms conducted for his dissertation at Ohio State University on ACL injury and its effects on neuroplasticity.

 “What we found was that the brain shifts the way it processes information after an injury—it changes the brain’s circuitry from sensory to visual motor control,” Grooms said. “So our research explores whether we can “reset” the brain back to its original sensory orientation to improve range of motion and help avoid re-injury.”

Grooms was also a recent recipient of an Ohio University 1804 grant, which funded equipment to pursue a research partnership with Senaptec, a company that provides tools for improving brain health and performance, to conduct more sophisticated motor function assessments that will ideally result in better screening for people with brain concussions.

More information on Grooms’ past research can be found at EurekAlert, the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s news source.