Alex Scott was awarded the 2015 Alun Morgan Memorial Research Award in Orthopaedic Physiotherapy:
1. What is the topic of your research?
My aim was to discover how healthy tendons respond to exercise. On one hand, tendons can become injured through overuse, leading to tendinopathy. On the other hand, the right training program can make tendons stronger, which can help prevent injuries and improve our performance of activities in sports and daily living.
2. Your research hypothesis
These were developed collaboratively among my research group and students. We hypothesized that intensive, isometric calf muscle training three times per week for 10 weeks would cause the Achilles tendon to become stiffer, indicating improved ability to store energy.
3. What did you discover?
We found that after 10 weeks, the Achilles tendon was about 35% stiffer. All of the 14 participants except for one experienced an improvement.
As part of the study, we also randomized the right and left tendons to receive a slightly different training program – long rest (10s pause between each rep) or short rest (3s pause). Both programs gave the same improvement in Achilles stiffness. The tendons, which only had a short rest between reps, showed some structural deterioration on ultrasound. We’re not sure what these ultrasound findings mean yet, but we think they might be a sign of early (asymptomatic) overuse.
4. How has your research helped your field of study?
We’ve shown that the duration of rest periods is something to consider when prescribing exercise for healthy tendons.
PFC is really important to me. It's the only mechanism specifically for funding for Canadian physiotherapy research.
5. What should physiotherapists know about your findings?
It’s important to give tendons enough time to adapt and rest when starting a new exercise program. With perseverance, you can expect your clients to achieve big improvements in tendon function over a relatively short period of time.
The program we used in our study could be helpful for people starting a running program who want to avoid Achilles injuries, for instance.
It takes a lot of dedication though - to get enough force through the tendon, the client has to exercise the calf at 90% of their maximum voluntary contraction.
6. How can this research help Canadians?
We all know it’s important to stay active - running, walking or jogging are accessible ways to do that, but they can contribute to overuse problems.
People who are starting a running program should consider talking to a physiotherapist about injury prevention, which could include some exercises to strengthen the Achilles.
7. What’s your motivation for pursuing this research? Why have you decided to go above and beyond?
When I was an undergraduate studying physiotherapy, I had so many questions about what we do as a profession. “Does this work? If so, why, and can we make it even better?”
8. What does PFC mean to you?
PFC is really important to me. It’s the only mechanism specifically for funding Canadian physiotherapy research. It’s also a vote of confidence to our whole research group, especially the graduate students, about the importance of what we’re doing.
9. Learn more:
- Read Alex’s research paper: Impact of rest duration on Achilles tendon structure and function following isometric training.
- Follow Alex on Twitter at @alex_scott_ubc
When you donate to the Physiotherapy Foundation of Canada (PFC), you help Canadian researchers
like Alex contribute to your field and add evidence for an active rehabilitation approach.