The Ohio State University Alumni Association

Hero image Dr. Peter Edwards '83, '84, '88 MD, right, works with Columbus Crew SC player Gaston Sauro.

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Columbus Crew SC's team physician teams with his alma mater and military researchers to help pro soccer players reach for peak performance

Editor’s note: This story is a companion to a magazine feature about Ohio State research into biomarkers — infinite pieces of data produced by our bodies that are being used to improve the performance of athletes and, with research by the U.S. Air Force, military personnel.

As head physician for the Columbus Crew SC professional soccer team, Dr. Peter Edwards has kept his finger on the pulse of the players’ health since the club formed in 1996.

A tennis player as a student at Ohio State, Edwards became interested in sports injuries while recovering from his own. He focused his medical studies on sports medicine, eventually becoming an orthopedic surgeon. He’s cared for athletes for more than 20 years, working with Olympic wrestlers, NFL players, NASCAR staff and the U.S. men’s and women’s soccer teams.

In addition to caring for the Crew, he is on the medical staff at Orthopedic One, the largest medical group of its kind in Ohio. There he specializes in arthroscopic knee surgery and treating lower body sports injuries.

Edwards ’83, ’84 MS, ’88 MD, views the use of analytics in medicine as one of the biggest changes he’s seen during his career. The Crew was at the forefront, he says, becoming one of the first professional teams to track soccer players’ biomarkers.

“We’ve been doing pretty detailed biometric analysis with our players for about the last seven years,” Edwards says. “It really allows us to do a whole-body analysis so that we can be as good as possible at preventing injury and help the player optimize his performance.”

It made perfect sense for the Crew to join Ohio State and the Air Force in a biometric research partnership. Like the Buckeyes, the Crew provides data on its players to the Air Force and in return receives access to better, more high-tech equipment and assistance in analyzing player data.

“We’ve been able to pick up things as unusual as a player who has a new baby, and his sleep pattern changes at home,” Edwards says. “We notice how that affects his recovery.”

Edwards and his colleagues keep close tabs on team members’ health, monitoring a variety of measures, including inflammation, brain activity, sleep patterns and how fast players are running on the field.

“We’ve been able to pick up things as unusual as a player who has a new baby, and his sleep pattern changes at home,” Edwards says. “We notice how that affects his recovery.”

Players also complete daily questionnaires about their health, and Edwards compares those to the biomarker data he tracks.

For instance, a player might say he feels exhausted, but his numbers show he’s practicing below his target heart rate for that day. “Those are triggers for us to say, ‘What’s wrong?’”

The partnership with the Air Force and Ohio State already is helping the Crew head in new directions. For instance, the team started using a float tank after Air Force researchers discovered it could help keep an athlete’s nervous system in balance — an important element in lowering stress.

“This is cutting edge,” Edwards says of the analysis the alliance is producing. “There are no professional sports teams going to this level of monitoring.”

While the results are promising, the ultimate goal is likely still years away. Edwards hopes one day to understand how he and his colleagues can help athletes train to their “peak day,” with all the stars aligning for a top performance at each and every game.

It’s an outcome that could certainly benefit pro soccer players, but more importantly, it would help the Crew’s Air Force partners and people around the world.

“Once we can predict that [peak performance for soccer players], then how do we replicate it for our special forces? How can it help us care for people with different diseases or just the general population?”

Edwards doesn’t have the answers, but he’s excited to be part of a larger team that’s pursuing them.

The winning numbers

The winning numbers

Our bodies produce an endless supply of data — in the form of biomarkers — that can be leveraged to improve how we feel and function. When Ohio State doctors and athletic department staffers team up with U.S. Air Force researchers to unlock the clues these indicators offer patients, athletes and service members, there are implications for all of us.