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William Whiting, PhD: CSUN Research Fellow 2010-11

Bill Whiting

Professor William Whiting, PhD (Kinesiology) has been named the 2010-11 CSUN Research Fellow from the College of Health and Human Development. Nine research fellowships are awarded to faculty across campus each academic year to support research and academic development.

Throughout his career, Whiting has consistently focused on the well being of people of all ages and abilities. In his fellowship year he will perform research to better understand the relationship between fatigue and injury. The resulting information can benefit a range of people from young athletes to the elderly.

We all know that when we’re tired or fatigued, concentration and dexterity are compromised and that the more complex the movement, the more likely we are to make a mistake. “But,” says Whiting, “the fact that has eluded us is exactly how fatigue affects the reliability of multi-joint movements, especially in the lower extremities.”

Whiting’s research project: "Limiting factors in human performance: Biomechanical assessment of joint-specific fatigue characteristics," will measure kinetic force and torque at the hip, knee and ankle joints to identify the point of fatigue where risk of injury may become a concern. “We want to understand the neuromuscular relationship,” Whiting says. “Understanding how fatigue builds and functions will lead us to ways to increase strength and stamina to help maintain well being.”

The risk of falling is greater in older adults because of the compromised balance, sensory perception, muscle strength, coordination and reflexes that can accompany aging. Hip fractures are a high risk among the elderly – and they are all too often the result of a simple fall. Because healing calls for immobility and can take months, a fracture can lead to fatality. The study will provide valuable information for falls prevention. “What we want to find out,” Whiting says, “is where is the discernible point of fatigue that makes the difference between continuing an activity safely or where changes in behavior can keep a person safer.”

The study will also look at fatigue characteristics in healthy athletes. “I’m very interested in solving problems associated with a common knee injury – damage to the ACL [anterior cruciate ligament]. ACL injury is becoming increasingly common,” Whiting says. “There are several hundred thousand ACL injuries in the US every year. And it’s worse in females than males. So far, we don’t know exactly why a female college soccer player is about three times more likely to get an ACL tear than a male of the same age in the same sport.” Recent evidence suggests that neuromuscular recruitment and joint movement patterns play a primary role, and fatigue affects these patterns.

“For the study, we’re going to recruit healthy adults who meet specific criteria, including no recent injury that would affect participation,” Whiting says. The Biomechanics Laboratory in the Department of Kinesiology is well equipped to help the scholars collect the research data. “Basically we’re going to work the subjects to fatigue through jumping and walking exercises, and then measure the effect of fatigue on an array of biomechanical variables.” Proper training for athletes can definitely build strength and stamina. “But,” says Whiting, “we need to understand how fatigue negatively alters the way people move – and generally, where their coordination is compromised. There are joint-specific fatigue patterns we’ll be examining.”

Conclusions of the study may influence the design of training programs to decrease injury risk and enhance performance.” Whiting’s research will also involve graduate students as researchers for credit toward their degrees. Traditionally the fellowship involves a mentorship component that teaches graduate students the protocols of research while strengthening the university as a center for research and new scholarly information.

Over the past thirty years, Dr. Whiting has authored several textbooks and presented numerous articles and papers exploring the biomechanics of performance enhancement and musculoskeletal injury.

The fellowship was created in 2007 and is funded collaboratively by the Office of the Provost, the Colleges and the Library.

-Jean O'Sullivan