Injury Incidence in College Ultimate: An Interview with Dr. Jamie Nuwer

by | February 13, 2012, 2:00pm 0

Jamie Nuwer faces the Polar Bears' Marie Madaras in the finals of the 2011 Club Championships - Photo by Brandon Wu (

Quite simply, it seems that new things are happening in college Ultimate. We see it in rising teams like Colorado College, the restructuring process, a creation of a meaningful Division III College Series, a new generation of Ultimate leaders making a difference…the list goes on. Another notable and unsung happening this year is the continuing of an ongoing study focused on helping us better understand the incidence of injuries in Ultimate.

Ultimate is a very physically demanding sport. Ultimate players go harder for longer and throw their bodies around at high speeds at insane heights unlike any other sport out there. You might recognize Dr. Jamie Nuwer from her established coaching record (see Stanford Superfly), her standout on-field performance (see 2011 Mixed Division Champion), or her ongoing work writing for USA Ultimate’s quarterly magazine (see “The Injury Timeout”). What you may not know is that she is an accomplished medical professional who received a USAU grant to head up a study to better understand injury rates in college Ultimate with David Swedler MPH, Anna Nazarov, Samantha Huo, Lev Malevanchik, and Michael Henehan DO.

I recently interviewed Jamie to help get her work on the radar of Ultimate players. The results of this study have big impacts in our game.

Background on the study: Injury rates are unknown for the rapidly growing sport of Ultimate Frisbee.  Injury rates are used to assess risk of injury in sports.  Once risks are identified further research can be done with interventions to improve safety.  There is no prior published research on injury rates in Ultimate Frisbee.

Robyn Fennig: How long have you been involved in Ultimate (as a player, coach, researcher, etc.)?

Nuwer the Observer.

Dr. Jamie Newer: I started playing in 1999 with Stanford Superfly.  I played until 2001 with Superfly then took a year off (knee surgery).  I played my 5th year during Med School at UCLA and also coached at the same time.  Thus I started coaching in 2003 and continued coaching UCLA BLU until 2005.  I took a year off to do school.  Then in 2006-7 coached the B team, UCLA Midas.  I’ve come full circle now, and I’ve been Coaching Stanford Superfly since 2010.

I’ve been writing for USA Ultimate since 2005 and have been chairwoman of the Medical Advisory Committee to USAU since 2010.  I also wrote and maintain the sports medicine section of the USAU Coaching Manual and the Without Limits Women’s Resource Manual.  In order to keep all the sports med info up to date and accessible, I created a website in 2007 called which focuses on injury prevention and management for Ultimate players.

I’ve been doing research since my first job in a Physics lab in 1995, my first job at age 15 (nerd central).

My newest position has allowed me to participate in the new Anti-Doping movement in USAU and world-wide.  I am the USA member and chairwoman of the Medical Anti-Doping Committee for WFDF.  We are implementing many exciting changes this year to keep the sport safe and drug-free.

What was the first time you remember combining your interests in sports medicine and Ultimate?

Jamie: When I started coaching I began to take an interest in injury prevention. I felt that as a coach I was partly responsible if my athletes developed overuse injuries.  I was probably overdoing something during training.  We had three ACL tears my second year coaching and that galvanized my campaign to prevent injuries as much as I could and share that knowledge with the Ultimate community. My co-coach and I implemented the PEP program for ACL tear prevention.  Since starting the program in 2006, BLU has had only two ACL tears.

You have been writing a column in the quarterly USA Ultimate magazine since 2006. How has that column transformed over the years?

Jamie: At first I focused on the most common Ultimate injuries.  Once I’d covered those then I started working on other types of less common injuries that afflict Ultimate players.  I’ve re-written some of the older articles in the past few years with more up-to-date info.  I guess the column’s purpose hasn’t changed much from the beginning.  It’s always been to bring the latest sports med info to players and coaches so that we can manage and prevent injuries in the best possible way.

How has the Injury Timeout column helped further your work with Ultimate-related injuries?

The column has allowed me to contact the Ultimate community en masse.  The best way it’s helped me is that people email me all the time with interesting questions.  I’ve learned a lot from my readers and have enlisted their help with my articles on many occasions.  It also gave me credibility to advance my involvement with USAU and WFDF as above.

Due to my work, Skyd approached me to write several articles for them over the past year.  I really have enjoyed working with them and enjoy the ability to answer questions directly from the Ultimate community.

How do you see your USA Ultimate grant fitting in with the development of college Ultimate?

Jamie: I see our study fitting in with the development of all Ultimate divisions.  I selected college specifically because they are a discrete group with easily accessible contacts that have a well-defined season.

The most important question to answer is, “What is the injury rate in Ultimate?”  Without that info you have no comparison for any intervention.  The next phase is implementing an injury prevention program to see if it makes any difference in injury rates.  In the future I plan to continue new interventions every 2 years to test their ability to keep the sport both safe and fun.  As Ultimate continues to become more competitive, injuries will likely become more common.  Ultimate will need to adapt with injury prevention education and possibly minor rules changes.

Describe the involvement of the teams in the study?

Jamie: Teams record the number of players at games and practices (our denominator) and the type and number of injuries (our numerator) on a weekly basis throughout the winter and spring (15 weeks through Championships)

Are you looking for more input/teams to participate?

Jamie: In 2013, yes!  The 2012 study is past the recruitment phase.  Contact Anna Nazarov if you’d like to participate next year.  She is the study coordinator.  AnnaNazarov at gmail dot com.  We will also be actively recruiting next fall so keep your eyes open for emails then.

The recruitment was highly successful this year.  We recruited 111 teams.  Thank you so much to everyone who’s participating.

Are there any sort of specific teams your study needs to add (i.e. small teams, big teams, open, women’s, mixed, geographical location, etc.)?

Jamie: We recruit teams from across the country and try to get a good mix of D1-D3 teams as well as A and B teams.  We have an even number of genders participating this year.

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