Westfield State University student earns NEACSM Undergraduate Research Experience Award for study of treadmill-walking mechanics

Dec 6, 2021
Photo of female student in front of presentation board

WESTFIELD, Mass.—Westfield State University senior Olivia Elie received an Undergraduate Research Experience Award from the New England chapter of the American College of Sports Medicine (NEACSM). The movement science major from Rockland, Mass., received the award for her study of treadmill walking.

Elie researched the mechanics of split-belt treadmill walking, when a person walks simultaneously on two treadmill belts that are moving at different speeds. This act has the potential to correct asymmetric walking in clinical populations like amputees; however, this process and its inner workings are not fully understood by experts. 

Elie observed how adapting these forces changed if the difference in belt speeds was introduced abruptly or gradually and how quickly these adaptations wash out when the belts return to moving at the same speed. 

Her research has shown that adaptations of push-off force due to gradual onset split-belt walking take longer to wash out than those due to abrupt split-belt walking. Abrupt onset split-belt walking challenges balance more than gradual onset walking. This observation may have significant clinical implications for the future once experts better understand how we adapt our forces to gradual onset split-belt walking. 

“The most crucial piece of information is that this research aligns with previous research on split-belt analysis that shows aftereffects in ground reaction forces,” said Elie. “Clinical implications can potentially be used to correct gait asymmetries.

“This research is the most challenging project I have taken on in undergrad. I came into research knowing little to nothing about data collection, data analysis, and academic writing,” she added. “This was a very humbling experience, learning new skills that are not offered in standard movement science curriculum.”

During the NEACSM annual conference in October, Elie presented early results from a collaboration between Brian Selgrade, Ph.D., Westfield State assistant professor, sports medicine and human performance, and the Integrated Locomotion Lab at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Elie is the second Westfield State student to receive this award from NEACSM and the first since Justin Roethlingshoefer in 2011, according to Selgrade.

“(Olivia) has proven to be a quick study, a hard worker, and one of the best students I’ve had the pleasure of conducting research with,” said Selgrade. “Her enthusiasm for the research has made this project a joy to work on.” 

Elie shared that she is thrilled to have earned the NEACSM award, stating that “it was nice to be able to document and show why this research was important for Westfield State.”

This specific project is one of many that Elie has worked on in the past 18 months with the Westfield State Biomechanics Lab. Her first project involved studying balance in people with multiple sclerosis (MS). This work aimed to identify a safe, clinically practical screening test for balance impairment in people with mild MS. 

To accomplish this, Elie analyzed trunk movement center of pressure data to determine how people with MS shift their weight when their balance is challenged by a virtual reality environment that perturbs vision. She concluded that, although people with MS (in this study) had more variable centers of pressure when challenged under virtual reality, healthy, age-matched control subjects exhibited similar behavior. 

In April 2021, Elie presented this work at the Massachusetts Undergraduate Research Conference as well as at the American Society of Biomechanics annual conference in August 2021. Recently, Elie and Selgrade submitted the manuscript for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.