As a practising sport exercise physiotherapist, Melissa Crunkhorn has worked with athletes from a range of sports and from all levels, from grassroots to elite.
Mel’s understanding of injuries and what is required to maximise performance has flourished through her considerable history of practice.
It is this understanding, teamed with her collaborative work within a University of Canberra/Australian Institute of Sport program, which has the potential to produce enormous benefits to elite sport, defence personnel and emergency services.
Mel is one of four inaugural scholarship recipients for the world-first Master of Applied Clinical Epidemiology (MACE) course, which is looking at health patterns relating to athletes and personnel in high performance environments.
The course began this year and one of its objectives is to look at how and why injuries occur and establish a strategy to enhance prevention.
Mel’s quest to fully comprehend how to maximise performance, and the role injuries play in the life of an athlete, started when she was a state-level athlete in track and field, growing up in Brisbane.
She graduated from the University of Queensland with a degree in physiotherapy in 2008, before completing a Masters in Musculoskeletal and Sports Physiotherapy from Griffith University in 2014.
Her involvement in sport, firstly as an athlete and now as a practitioner, has given her a unique insight into maximising performance.
“I’m interested in high performance sport,” says Mel, “I love working in this area and I am keen to work on a contemporary, evidence-based approach as it applies to sport. I also have a background working in para-sport, and I’ve worked with para-canoe, para-athletics and as a classifier with para-cycling over the years”.
Mel is totally immersed in sport, working in private practice in Brisbane dealing with the elite to the recreational athlete. She also works with the Queensland Academy of Sport (QAS) Sailing.
But there remained a strong desire to further understand how to optimise the health of athletes and their performance. This is what drew her to the globally unique academic program known as MACE, jointly presented by UC and the AIS.
The MACE program was offered to health care professionals working in sports, defence or emergency services. Mel, supported by QAS and Australian Sailing, along with David Spurrier, Benny Pagett and Ben Raysmith were awarded scholarships.
The expectation is that the information garnered will allow national sporting organisations and the National Institute Network to use data analysis and research to plan and evaluate strategies for preventing athlete injury and illness.
Mel says the MACE program has allowed her to work in collaboration with subject matter experts from the AIS, PhD students and the world-class UC academic resources.
Six months into the course as one of the four scholarship holders, Mel says it has been exciting to utilise the resources of UC and the AIS with an intensive block of training in November, providing an indication of expectations.
“I’m hoping this develops my skills in research, to examine trends, injury surveillance; basically working on a preventative framework. I am keen to work on clinical epidemiology prevention methods, to optimise the health of athletes and performance.”
Like Mel, Ben Raysmith brings years of practical experience to the MACE scholarship program.
After graduating with a physiotherapy degree in 2000, Ben worked in private practice for 10 years, providing physio services to the Western Australian Football League and the Western Force before joining the AIS.
“Coming out of 10 years in private practice where there’s not a lot of opportunity to do research, it was great to come to the AIS which enabled me to conduct evidence-based research.”
As an employee of the AIS from 2010, Ben worked with Athletics Australia and its senior teams as a Senior Sports and Exercise Physiotherapist. From July 2018 he became a full-time employee of Athletics Australia, continuing his work with track and field athletes.
Ben says the MACE course allows him to use his experience in the field. “I am keen to utilise the depth of knowledge in public health prevention models and apply it to a high-performance setting,” says Ben, “Doing a course like this enables us to apply systems-based prevention models to a clinical setting”.
To put a systems-based model into context, Ben says rather than focus on individuals, the research needs to take in the broader population. He likens it to the mass education programs relating to smoking, vaccination and wearing seat belts. “MACE adds another layer to the depth of knowledge,” Ben adds, “And doing prevention with athletes needs to be done at a systems level”.
Such is his thirst for knowledge, at the same time as doing the MACE program, Ben is also into the third year of a PhD looking at the health factors contributing to performance outcomes in athletics.
The cutting-edge nature of the course has already pushed Mel, Ben and their fellow MACE scholarship holders out of their comfort zone. By its very nature the research has the potential to have wide-ranging benefits for the general population even beyond the benefits to sport, defence and emergency service personnel.
Story by Tim Gavel. Photos by Adobe Stock and supplied