ESSA congratulates Dr Jack Hickey, winner of 2018 ESSA Medal

Each year, the prestigious ESSA Medal is awarded annually by Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA) to the most outstanding PhD thesis, approved for graduation in the field of exercise and sports science.

“The awarding of the ESSA Medal allows us to recognise those students who are contributing to the exercise and sports science industry through their research and dedication,” explains ESSA Chief Executive Officer, Anita Hobson-Powell.

For 2018, the ESSA Medal received a record-number of nine nominations of the highest quality from dedicated project supervisors from various universities around Australia. The assessing panel commented on the difficulty when identifying a clear winner for the overall decision.

Today, ESSA is pleased to congratulate Dr Jack Hickey, from the Australian Catholic University, for winning the 2018 ESSA Medal for his PhD thesis, ‘Hamstring strain injury: objective assessment tools and exercise-specific progression criteria during pain-threshold rehabilitation’.

“Winning the ESSA medal is a very humbling honour and it is really nice to be acknowledged for the work you put in as a PhD student. However, this research is the result of a team effort and is testament to the awesome contributions of my PhD supervisors and research collaborators. I’d particularly like to thank my primary PhD supervisor, Dr David Opar for his guidance and of course my friends and family for supporting me,” says Dr Jack Hickey.

“We feel this research is important to the field of exercise and sports science as it emphasises an objective exercise-specific approach to rehabilitation and questioned long-held beliefs about pain avoidance following acute muscle injury, which had not previously been challenged.”

Dr Hickey’s PhD research involved a series of studies focussed on hamstring strain injury rehabilitation. 

“Firstly, we conducted a systematic review, which identified a lack of objectivity in rehabilitation decision-making and a large emphasis on pain avoidance following hamstring strain injury. Consequently, we developed a novel apparatus to objectively monitor hamstring strength throughout rehabilitation and showed this to be reliable.”

“We also hypothesised that the conventional practice of remaining pain-free following hamstring strain injury may unnecessarily delay and limit exposure to beneficial exercise during rehabilitation, especially eccentric loading. So, we developed a rehabilitation protocol with exercise-specific progression criteria which accelerated exposure to eccentric loading following hamstring strain injury.”

“Finally, we conducted a randomised controlled trial and showed that it is not necessary to completely avoid pain during hamstring strain injury rehabilitation and that exercise can be safely performed and progressed up to a pain-threshold.”

Hickey’s thesis received applause from the assessing panel, with feedback such as:

‘Great applications to rehab for researchers/practitioners alike.’

‘This is a very good thesis with strong real-world implications.’

‘This is an excellent thesis, with good quality papers emerging from the work (and conference awards and invitations to speak). There is also good evidence of impact.’

Dr Jack Hickey will be provided with his award and prize money at the 2019 ESSA Innovation & Practice Forum, being held in Melbourne in May.

Nominations for the 2019 ESSA Medal will open late-2019, and project supervisors will be invited to nominate their PhD students as candidates from September 2019.