Kinesiology professor leads concussion research

Nestled away deep in the basement of the Rickel Building lies the Kinesiology Department’s Exercise & Sport Performance Lab which, upon first glance, may not appear to be a lab at all. With racks, weights, and lifting platforms filling the expanse of the space, you might think you’d accidentally stumbled into the football team’s weight room – but this is no ordinary gym.

“We can measure anything to do with sport performance that you could possibly imagine,” said Dr. Jonathan Oliver, assistant professor of kinesiology. “In a regular gym, you’re only going to be able to exercise. Here, we actually have the equipment to measure everything associated with performance during exercise.  We can also measure other biological markers that may offer a greater insight into performance and training, such as genetic testing.”

Sport performance is one of the lab’s primary areas of research. Oliver and his team work to improve athletes’ performance in the gym so that they can experience enhanced performance on the field. The team has also ventured to discover other ways to improve athletic recovery, especially when it comes to sports-related concussions.

“Our Sports Concussion Research Group focuses on concussive and subconcussive impacts and how those injuries affect athletes,” he said. “We’re also looking at nonpharmacological interventions that can not only reduce the likelihood that a concussion develops, but also may improve the outcomes following a concussion.”

To date, the group’s concussion research has involved nearly 900 athletes. An area of interest in particular has been the impact of fish oil on concussion prevention and recovery, and the group helped conduct the largest-ever clinical trial of the supplement. Oliver says they’ve recently completed yet another study including a number of potential neuroprotective ingredients, the results of which will be released soon.

While improving the lives of athletes has been one of the kinesiology department’s greatest impacts, undergraduate and graduate-level students have been given a unique opportunity to learn in-demand skills in TCU’s innovative facilities. Oliver says most of his students are setting their sights on sports science careers.

“My students typically want to go on into strength and conditioning, whether it be at the high school, college, or professional level,” he said. “Strength conditioning and sports science are growing areas of interest in the United States. For instance, the UFC recently posted a position for a sports scientist. They usually hire from outside of the country because we just don’t have a lot of sports science students in the U.S. But that job starts at $180,000 annually, which is quite nice for someone coming out with a master’s degree.”

For now, Oliver and his team are continuing their life-saving concussion research and are carrying on with an eye toward the future. He says a long-term goal for the Exercise & Sport Performance Lab would be its eventual evolution into a larger facility.

“The development of a sports institute would be a pie-in-the-sky goal for us,” he said. “It could be a testing facility not just for our studies, but for any athlete who wants to come in and be able to get feedback on an ongoing basis. We would be able to give athletes and their coaches tools to help improve their performance.”