One AT’s Research Agenda: Understanding Osteoarthritis

By Katie Caldwell 

It was a master’s degree grant from the NATA Foundation that gave Jeff Driban, PhD, ATC, CSCS, direction with his athletic training career.  

“I was looking at the changes in the electrical potential of soft tissues as they were being incised during a total hip replacement procedure,” he explained. “Trying to get a better understanding of how the electrical potentials change during trauma.” 

He was pursuing his master’s degree at Temple University, while also working in the university hospital’s orthopedic clinic, as well as working as an athletic trainer on the side. 

While it had its challenges, Driban explained that it gave him exposure into doing research with patients who had osteoarthritis. And that research is what encouraged him to go on and get his PhD.  

Now, the special and scientific staff member and associate professor for Tufts Medical Center for Osteoarthritis Research centers his research on people with or at risk for osteoarthritis with an emphasis on developing measurements to quantify how a patient’s disease is progressing.  

“It’s characterizing different types of osteoarthritis,” he explained. “To better understand why certain people seem to progress much faster than others.” 

Driban says his athletic training background is valuable, and in fact, catapulted him into his research.  

“Working in an orthopedic office was kind of the catalyst for researching people with osteoarthritis,” he explained. “While I was in the clinic, I worked with patients with osteoarthritis. I was also seeing how some of our sports medicine physicians were seeing more and more patients return with osteoarthritis years after their injury.” 

Driban has an interest in trying to better understand the relationship between sports and getting osteoarthritis. He said a lot of people have the misconception that osteoarthritis is a wear-and-tear disease, when in fact there is growing evidence showing exercise and physical activity like running can be helpful.  

“There’s a lot of unknowns, a lot of assumptions,” he said, explaining that people tend to assume certain sports cause osteoarthritis. “We’re trying to debunk these things and better understand why some athletes may be more likely to get osteoarthritis. Instead of blaming sports, we may find that some athletes are getting osteoarthritis because of the injuries they experience while participating in sports or returning too quickly after an injury. These are things we are well positioned to address.” 

Driban recommends any athletic trainers interested in going the research route in their career to continue engaging in clinical practice or regularly engaging with clinicians and patients and not operating as an island.  

“Talk to other researchers and talk to clinicians who share similar interests. Collaborate as much as possible,” he said. “Don’t feel limited by the resources that you might have at your specific institution. Think about the ideas and then work with your mentors and collaborators to make them come true.” 

Interested in advancing your career as an athletic trainer? Learn more about residencies, fellowships, and doctoral degrees.