Researchers from Canada have received the 2016 Liberty Mutual Award for their work assessing links between specific fitness and movement abilities of a group of elite task force police officers and subsequent back injuries.

Their scientific paper, “Can Fitness and Movement Quality Prevent Back Injury in Elite Task Force Police Officers? A 5-Year Longitudinal Study,” examined 53 elite police force members.

The researchers – Stuart M. McGill, Ph.D.; David M. Frost, Ph.D.; and Jordan Cannon, M.Sc. of the Spine Biomechanics Laboratories, University of Waterloo; Thomas Lam, B.Phe., D.C., C.K., C.S.C.S., FITS, Toronto, Ontario; and Tim Finlay and Kevin Darby of the Toronto Police Services, Toronto, Ontario, Canada – gathered baseline measurements from every officer including torso endurance, relative and absolute strength, hip range of motion and movement quality using several dynamic movement tests and the Functional Movement Screen. Over a 5-year follow-up period, 14 of the 53 participants sustained a back injury.

“Elite police work has bursts of intense physically demanding work requiring high levels of fitness, or capacity, and movement competency,” says McGill, lead scientist on the investigation. “These factors are assumed to increase one’s injury resilience. We wanted to test whether or not we could predict back injuries from measures of fitness and movement quality.”

The study findings reveal complexities in the interactions between exposure, movement competency, training, fitness and injury. “When variables were grouped and considered holistically, rather than individually, back injury could be predicted,” says McGill. “We found seven variables that best predicted those who would suffer a back injury; however, overall the ability to predict back injury was not high. Generally, it was the fitter officers who were injured, which suggests that training intensity may have been a factor.”

The paper was published in Ergonomics.

“Although the study raises as many questions as it answers, it demonstrates the complexities between exposure, fitness, injury and injury prediction.” says Roger Haslam, editor-in-chief of Ergonomics. “The editors recognized the paper for rising to the methodological and practical challenges of undertaking prospective research in a real world setting,”