New Faculty’s Research Studies Brain’s Role in Injury Recovery

While serving as a Korean Navy SEAL, Yong Woo An, assistant professor in health and human sciences, noticed the injuries that his fellow sailors and he sustained throughout their physical training. An’s interest in finding ways to prevent or treat the injuries started him on a path that would eventually lead to Loyola Marymount University.

An began his academic journey in athletic training at Michigan State University and later earned his master’s degree in health and human performance at the University of Florida.

While pursuing his master’s degree he worked as an athletic trainer at two different high schools. He observed situations where athletes sustained an injury, fully recovered, and re-injured themselves again. It was an observation that influenced his dissertation at the University of Delaware, where An earned his Ph.D. in biomechanics and movement science.

“My main research focus is the role of the brain in maintaining functional joint stability and performance in patients with ACL injuries,” said An. “Previous studies, including my own work, have shown that injuries change the brain’s function possibly permanently. I think maybe one of the reasons people get re-injured, after physically recovering, is because the brain is not the same anymore.”

After a person physically recovers from an injury, there may be another layer of neuro-behavior rehabilitation that needs to take place to avoid re-injury, An explains. Results from his research could be applied to other peripheral joint injuries, such as the ankle and shoulder.

“Based on our findings, I hope that we can create an innovative rehabilitation program that emphasizes the brain in signal processing and more emotional support, in addition to physical therapy,” said An.

An’s work is highly interdisciplinary. He works with experts in biomechanics, mechanical engineering, physical therapy, neuroscience and more. He said he enjoys working with collaborators from different fields so he can expand his knowledge base and solve problems by considering different angles.

An said he’s looking forward to future collaborations with health and human sciences faculty and other departments. When he visited campus for his interview, An noticed the congenial spirit of the campus community. “Everyone I met, students and faculty, looked happy at LMU,” recalls An. “I felt like they genuinely cared for each other and supported each other.”

In the fall, An will teach two courses: Upper Extremity Evaluation and Therapeutic Rehabilitation in Sports Medicine.

Prior to LMU, An served as an assistant professor at New Mexico State University in the Department of Kinesiology and Dance.

In his free time, you might see An running at the beach, hiking or scuba diving. He also is a big soccer fan. An will embark on his next big adventure when he becomes a father in the fall.