Research on Concussions in Soccer – Caroline Lecours

written by Marie January 23, 2021

I’d like to present to you an interview with an inspirational woman, Caroline Lecours. I found her research project about concussions relating to soccer extremely interesting. Therefore, I reached out to her and proposed the idea of an interview for my blog. She accepted the offer!

The first part of the interview will be about Caroline’s education path, and then we will share more about her research project.

Interview with a Research/Student on Concussions in Soccer

What is your academic background?

I began my collegial studies in the program “Health Sciences.” This led me to complete my technological academic path at the university “Ecole de Technologie Supérieure” (ETS). My undergraduate degree focused on Mechanical Engineering with a specialization in Health Technology. However, it did not prevent me from completing two out of three internships in Aeronautics! At the end of my undergraduate degree, I set myself the goal of pursuing a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering. The need to learn new things was stronger than going into the job market right away. I also continued my academic path up to the Doctorate degree (Ph.D.), not only to expand my interest in this subject but also for the freedom, autonomy, and personal/professional development! Graduate studies are mostly done on your own which allowed me to learn many aspects of technology and more about myself.

Caroline Lecours posing in front of her poster at ACFAS conference about concussions in soccer

Do you have any advice for people that have an interest in studying at a graduate level?

If you’re not interested in suggested projects, then create your own!

For me, the Masters had to be stimulating and fun, since it wasn’t something that was “mandatory” in the job market. Therefore, I had to find a topic that I could relate back to. Nevertheless, in my undergraduate degree, I was never informed about the different options relating to research projects. However, when I would discuss with my professor/supervisor, I had understood that it is possible to create your own research project. In fact, it is not clearly explained to students, but if you have a global idea or something specific that you would like to turn into a research project; all you have to do is find the right professor to guide you.  

How do you find your professor?

I had met my professor/supervisor simply through a course I took during my undergraduate degree in the Winter semester of 2014. He was extremely passionate about the material he was teaching. This made me want to learn more. Fast forward two semesters later, before starting my last internship, I had emailed my professor to ask if they had any internship opportunities for me. This is how I completed my last Undergraduate Internship (in 2015) at the Hospital Sacre-Coeur in Montreal, under my professor’s supervision. He maintained his role as a supervisor from the time of my internship until the end of my Ph.D. in October 2020. 

Related | My research internship at Johns Hopkins University

Caroline Lecours in front of her poster for a conference for her Ph.D. about concussions in football.

Why an Internship, a Master’s Degree, and a Ph.D. with the same professor/supervisor?

My professor listened to me and showed an open mind that really resonated with me. Indeed, my internship went very well. However, the project I was working on did not stimulate me to proceed to do a Master’s Degree for the next two years. What was the solution? He proposed to me to develop a new project that related to his field of expertise. He voluntarily proposed the idea of a sport in which I had practiced for years. This was soccer. And yes, the principles of mechanics can be used in the field of aeronautics as when playing soccer!

What are your hobbies?

Evidently, I have been playing soccer for over 20 years and it’s still today a part of my life! My game has naturally changed ever since I began my research on concussions. I am very much aware of the risks and consequences now. I am much more careful and I also try to make the players around me aware of concussions risks.

It has been two years since I began sewing and I adore making clothes for myself. It really is satisfying to repurpose materials (even if they are tiny pieces) and recycle old clothes into projects that are eco-friendly.

I also do volunteer work at the academic level. I am one of the mentors for “G-Change” which is a mentoring program for young women. On November 20th, G-Change had an event that had many activities. I attended the event as a co-speaker with my supervisor. I’ve been doing personal volunteer work for about 4 years now. I don’t volunteer for an organization per se, but I hear by word of mouth or by LinkedIn where parents ask me for help for their teenagers.

Research project on Concussions

At the Master’s and doctoral level, I was interested in the following question:

What are the risk factors and indicators for concussions while playing soccer?

Be careful, the risk is very present!

How can engineering help with concussions in sports?

I am often asked the question: “Why are you interested in concussions if you are in Mechanical Engineering?”.

People often associate Mechanical Engineering with Aerospace or Mechanical Manufacturing. However, the principles of mechanics can also apply to injuries in sports. For example, the accelerations of an athlete’s head during an impact (concussion) can be associated with engineering and are a particular interest. 

It is also important to note the difference between the role of medicine and engineering. In medicine, doctors seek to diagnose and treat concussions. In engineering, we seek to understand the mechanisms of the injury; asking ourselves “how did the concussion occur?”. The various responses can help prevent injury by developing protective equipment, such as helmets, or by recommending changes in the rules of the game.

Why study concussions?

A concussion is an extremely complex injury that is misunderstood to this day, despite a large number of published studies on this subject. A multitude of factors can intervene and influence the risk of concussion in sports. These factors can be the age and gender of the athlete, physical and mental fatigue, and the wearing of protective equipment. 

How do you study concussions related to soccer?

This sport brings an additional difficulty since the athletes do not wear any protective helmets. In sports that do not require helmets, sensors measuring head accelerations can be affixed to the skin. Sensors can also be inserted in headbands or helmets or integrated into a mouthguard. For sports such as football or hockey, the sensors are mounted directly in their helmets.

Caroline Lecours in front of a sign for University of Oxford where she did a research stay for her Ph.D. studying concussions in football.
Caroline did research internship at the University of Oxford in England for her Ph.D. research!

Did your experiments take place with athletes in the laboratory?

No! In fact, I measured the accelerations of the athlete’s head during their training and games. I had the pleasure of being subjected to the whims of Mother Nature! Some games were played in the sun at 30ᵒ Celsius, others in the rain and even snow. During the summer, I was bitten by many mosquitos on my legs when I was filming their games. To the point where I had to go to the pharmacy immediately after the game to treat the bites!

How can these measures help to understand concussions?

In my project, I was interested in head accelerations that can be considered dangerous. It is not a simple task since each athlete is unique. The risk may be greater if the athlete is a child and not an adult, or if they have previously suffered from a concussion. It is essential to note all the information available to identify the most important factors. For example, in my project, I looked at the age and gender of athletes, the ambient air temperature, the type of field (natural or synthetic), and the properties of the soccer ball. Additionally, I looked at the dimensions of the athletes’ necks and even the number of years they have been playing the sport.

What are your plans for the future?

After 12 years of post-secondary studies, I will allow myself to take a vacation! I want to take the time to think about what’s next. Even with a doctorate degree, I’m not “exactly” sure where it will take me, whether I will continue in research or join the industry. The health sector, aeronautics, or another field? Maybe product development or project management? Of course, I end my studies with more questions than when I started!

Related | Notion for Academic Research & Note-Taking

Conclusion

I hope you found this article as inspiring as I did when I read Caroline’s answers to my questions. If you have any questions for her, please leave them in the comments. I’m sure she will be happy to answer you!

Caroline would also like to thank her supervisor Éric.

Translated from French by: Gabriella Ruberto 

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