Turning to Research for Better Injury Prevention Training

October 1, 2021 by Claire Williams

In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, Sept. 15-Oct. 15, the NATA Now blog is highlighting some of NATA’s Hispanic/Latinx athletic training members who are advancing the profession through research.

Sometimes the best part about research can be the unexpected; it keeps things exciting. Not just the findings that bust a hypothesis, but even getting into research can be unexpected. For Jessica Martinez, PhD, LAT, ATC, her transition from collegiate athletic trainer to researcher and professor was never on her envisioned career path.

Now an assistant professor and director of clinical education at Old Dominion University, Martinez shifted her focus to research after a couple years in what she thought was her “dream job” working with a women’s hockey team. In this role, she realized there was a disconnect in injury prevention training programs.

She wasn’t seeing them utilized at a rate she thought satisfactory, and asked why. That question led her back to academia.

“How do I change the profession?” she asked, questioning where the disconnect on injury prevention programs usage in athletic training education and clinical practice started.

“If I want to make a difference, I need to start at the root – let’s bring everybody up. … I need to be a teacher.”

Martinez’s master’s level research was focused on quality of life in patients, which she sees as closely related to injury prevention. She honed in on that and focused her research beginning in 2014 on lower extremity injury prevention education and preventative training programs, specifically, but, “it’s not just about knees,” she said.

“They’re all connected,” she said, referencing how preventing injuries can have a big impact on any patient’s quality of life, and any work to prevent that disruption in quality of life should be top of mind.

In 2014, when Martinez was beginning her doctorate journey at the University of Connecticut, she successfully applied for a NATA Research & Education Foundation Doctoral Grant. That funding went to her dissertation research to compensate her research subjects – collegiate athletes – and the researchers she recruited to implement programs and track data.

With this grant, Martinez completed her dissertation research, which was incorporating training programs for all student athletes at a high school to determine if there was an impact on preventing lower extremity injuries.

Martinez’s focus on lower extremity injury prevention has since led to more than 20 co-authorships on related published research.

Today, Martinez is working on implementation and adoption of injury prevention programs in her role at ODU. Specifically, she works with one team to complete movement quality screening tests, such as force plate testing and jump tests, then works with a strength and conditioning coach to develop unique prevention programs for the student athletes based on their results.

“We have the equipment and the skills [at ODU to complete this type of testing], so let’s put it to good use,” she said.

For her, it’s not just about the research, but applying these programs and previous findings to better support her patients in real time.

Additionally, she’s incorporating that thinking into her coursework, as well. Not only does injury prevention take focus, so does cultural competency and diversity, inclusion and access efforts.

As a Latina who is Venezuelan American, Martinez has increased her involvement in DEIA efforts in the profession and encourages her students to think more critically about the cultural differences among their patients.

“it’s important to understand how their patients’ cultural experiences impact treatment as an athletic trainer,” she said. “Treating everyone the same is good, but you need to find out how they’re different to provide the highest quality of care.”

Although her Latinx heritage and the Latinx community hasn’t been a focal point in her research previously, Martinez said she has started to collect data on ethnicity in addition to age and gender. She isn’t looking for specific findings, per se, but anecdotally, she’s looking for patterns that might arise and require further research in the future.

Martinez’s effort to “change the profession” at the root are far from completed. Although unexpected, her entry into the research and academic community is undoubtedly important as her contributions to the athletic training profession are unique in her experiences as a Latina and athletic trainer.

Learn more about the NATA Research & Education Foundation's Doctoral Research Program on the Foundation webpage.