LMU this Week

ATHLETICS | Keith Ellison is assistant athletics director for sports medicine at LMU, where he has worked for 28 years. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1986, and a master’s degree in education with an emphasis in guidance counseling in 2006. In his 22 years as director of sports medicine, he has seen LMU’s athletic programs swell to 22 varsity sports, with more than 425 student-athletes. He coordinates and supervises the physical therapy for each of the student-athletes at LMU. Ellison talked to LMU This Week.

LMU This Week: How did you get into athletic training?

Keith Ellison: I got into athletic training pretty much by accident. After graduating from LMU, I was working for a bank in their management program. LMU had just hired a new head athletic trainer, Chris Tucker. We were introduced through a mutual friend. He explained to me what he did and invited me to stop by, so I did. After spending the day in the Athletic Training Room, I knew this was my way to get into athletics. I quit my job and started volunteering. I had to go back to school to satisfy the requirements needed to sit for the NATA exam to become a certified athletic trainer. After, I passed the exam Chris hired me as his assistant and I’ve been here ever since.

LTW: How has sports medicine changed in your 22 years as LMU’s head athletic trainer?

KE: When I first started in the field, I feel athletic trainers were more reactive, meaning we treated the injuries as they occurred. Five years ago, I shifted my focus from reactive to preventive. I started to really focus on the movement patterns of our student-athletes, by asking the important questions – Are they moving efficiently? Will their lack of movement efficiency leave them more susceptible to injury? So, when I’m watching our men’s basketball team practice, I’m looking at how our players move. Really, I am looking for any movement pattern deficiencies. It eventually led me to develop a screening protocol, which includes posture, movement, and strength assessments. After screening a student-athlete, I can then develop a specialized program for their particular needs.

LTW: What kind of technology do you use?

KE: I’m big on technology, so I really keep tabs on what’s new and innovative. I’m always researching for new modalities. The most recent addition to my rehabilitation toolbox is the BFR – Blood Flow Retraction by Owens Recovery System Science. The BFR has pretty much changed our rehabilitation. The results have been great, getting our athletes stronger a lot quicker. My second modality would be the Interex device, which uses electrical stimulation for relief of acute and chronic pain. These two have propelled our rehabilitation to a different level.

I have two physical therapists, Chris Graham and Anthony Ware. In the past, an injured student-athlete would have to go off campus for physical therapy. Now, we have a PT in our facility five days a week. Also, my staff gets to observe and learn from them. It really has changed our ability to get our student-athletes back faster.

LTW: Is there one sport that requires more attention than the others?
KE: Not really. You never know what each year will bring regarding injuries. Some years a team will be hit with the injury bug and there are years where multiple teams are hit as well. But, I’m trying to minimize our injuries by screening and observing their movement patterns to pinpoint who might be susceptible to injury based on the way they move, their kinetic chain and their weaknesses. That’s my way of trying to prevent injuries, but some injuries are just going to happen. A kid can tear an ACL as a result of planting and their knee shifts. That’s just circumstance. The things that we can have control of, my staff is trying to pinpoint issues and correcting them before they become injuries.

LTW: Do you and your staff design individual programs for each athlete?
KE: Yes, if a student-athlete is injured, we create a specialized program based on their injury. The rehab will change as the athlete progresses. There are standard exercises, but a certified athletic trainer and physical therapist will select the appropriate exercises and design the program accordingly.

LTW: When you work with student-athletes, what is the balance of perspiration to motivation?
KE: When an athlete is injured, they can go through a variety of emotions. You really have to have the ability to show empathy and also provide motivation. We have to balance that; that’s a skill an athletic trainer needs to have to be effective. In reality, all athletes are different; what motivates one athlete might not work with another athlete. Basically, you have to be able to understand people. That’s why I try and guide athletic trainers toward a master’s degree in counseling. It’s very useful when dealing with athletes, coaches, and parents.


Ellison and his staff of athletic trainers will be at every basketball game this season. Don’t miss a moment of the action and purchase your season tickets today for men’s basketball and women’s basketball. Games run from November through March in the home of LMU basketball, Gersten Pavilion.

On the links, Riley Elmes of men’s golf has picked up right where he ended his sophomore year. After earning All-West Coast Conference honors a year ago, Elmes is again leading the Lions as a junior. At last week’s Nick Watney Invitational in Fresno, Elmes tied for third overall out of 92 golfers after shooting 1-over par, 72-68-74—214.

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