Health Sciences Research Spans Baseball Pitches and Firearm Storage

A pitcher from Eastern’s baseball team wears a motion-capture suit so that his biomechanics can be analyzed.

Written by Michael Rouleau and Jolene Potter

Two new assistant professors of the Health Sciences Department saw recent developments in their research activities. Paul Canavan led a study on campus that analyzed the biomechanics of Eastern’s own baseball pitchers, and Mitchell Doucette’s research on firearm storage was named One of the Best Papers of the Year by the American Journal of Public Health.

On Oct. 13 and 14, health sciences researchers led by Paul Canavan analyzed the biomechanics of the baseball pitch, using pitchers from Eastern’s own baseball team as study subjects. Titled “Analysis of the Baseball Pitch: Effect of Foot Placement on Body Movement and Pitching Accuracy,” the study also involved visiting biomechanical engineer Nicholas Yang and Eastern students Christina Gosselin ’19 and Ashley Kennison ’19.

“Improper mechanics can lead to shoulder and elbow injury,” said Canavan. “The placement of the front foot of the pitcher during the pitch can affect the timing of motion in the hips, trunk, shoulder and elbow, possibly resulting in future injury and decreased accuracy.”

Student athletes from the baseball team agreed to participate in the study, which occurred in the Geissler Gymnasium with a slew of high-tech equipment, provided by Yang, a colleague of Canavan’s from San Francisco. Using high-speed cameras, a radar gun and a motion-capture suit (Xsens) worn by the study subjects, researchers were able to analyze the minute movements that happen during a baseball pitch.

“Providing individual athletes and coaches in the future with results that could optimize mechanics may improve performance and decrease injury risk,” said Canavan of the study’s implications.

This study provided an opportunity for undergraduates in Eastern’s health sciences program to participate in practical research. Gosselin and Kennison assisted in setting up equipment and data collection. They also read literature reviews on similar studies and considered ways to improve upon their study.

“I’m honored to have participated in this research,” said Gosselin, who aspires to become a physical therapist. “I reached out to Professor Canavan this summer, hoping to aid him in any upcoming research projects and we started right away. I’m always searching for new ways to expand my knowledge, and this study has been the perfect opportunity for me to gain experience in the field of sports research.”

Health Sciences Professor Mitchell Doucette.

Earlier this month, Mitchell Doucette was part of a research team recognized by the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) for having One of the Best Papers of the Year in 2018. Titled “Storage Practices of U.S. Gun Owners in 2016,” Doucette’s research study was selected for the journal’s Editor’s Choice Awards.

Self-inflicted and unintentional firearm injury is a major public health concern in the United States. Doucette’s research explores the factors that influence firearm storage among gun owners. Through a nationally representative online survey, it also assesses gun storage habits and attitudes about gun storage practices.

Methods for safe storage include securing guns in a locked safe or gun rack and using trigger locks. The study found that only 50 percent of gun owners self-reported storing all of their firearms safely. It was noted, however, that having children and/or participating in gun-safety courses increases the likelihood of safe firearm storage.

The research also examined the organizations that gun owners view as credible sources of information about firearm storage. The research found that gun owners viewed law enforcement and hunting/outdoor organizations like the National Rifle Association (NRA) as most credible for communicating safe gun storage.

“Safe gun storage has the potential to serve as a meaningful intervention to reduce both gun-related injuries and mortalities,” said Doucette. “Public health practitioners should utilize gun-safety training courses and partner with the groups that gun owners find credible – like law enforcement – to increase safe firearm storage.”

The American Journal of Public Health is dedicated to the publication of original work in research, research methods and program evaluation in the field of public health. The mission of the journal is to advance public health research, policy, practice and education. The December 2018 issue of AJPH will include a column about the winning publications, which will feature Doucette and his innovative research.