University of South Florida

USF awarded $1.3 million to expand research to prevent back injury in firefighters

The grant is largely funded by FEMA with some matching support by the Florida Chiropractic Research Foundation

Tampa, FL (Sept. 4, 2014) — The University of South Florida’s  John Mayer, DC, PhD,  recently received a $1.3 million Department of Homeland Security/Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Assistance to Firefighters grant — an award that will help build upon cumulative research assessing the effectiveness of targeted exercise programs to reduce the risk of low back pain and disability in firefighters.   The grant total includes a 5 percent extramural funding match from the Florida Chiropractic Research Foundation.


Dr. Mayer is the Lincoln Endowed Chair of Biomechanical & Chiropractic Research and coordinator of research for  USF Health’s School of Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Sciences.  The new funding supports  the third phase of an ongoing FEMA-funded research project  investigating the link between poor back muscular fitness and low back pain in firefighters and ultimately identifying exercise interventions that would be safe and effective in helping prevent low back injury and illness in this at risk population.

For the latest study, a full-scale randomized controlled prevention trial, USF Health will partner with the Tampa Bay region’s three largest fire departments, employing a total of 2,000 firefighters: Tampa Fire Rescue, Hillsborough County Fire Rescue and St. Petersburg Fire Rescue.  The researchers will compare the clinical effectiveness of two intervention groups — one receiving a directly supervised exercise regimen at the fire station and the other receiving the same exercise regimen only as a web-based, remote interaction  — with a control group.

A smaller randomized controlled trial conducted by Dr. Mayer and colleagues published online earlier this year in the American Journal of Health Promotion demonstrated  that a two-time a week, 24-week supervised exercise program targeting  back and core muscles in firefighters was safe and effective. Firefighters in the supervised exercise program experienced 12 percent and 21 percent greater gains in back and core muscular endurance, respectively, than did firefighters performing the usual physical fitness regimen (control group).

Back injuries are the leading cause of permanent disability and early retirement among firefighters, who often carry more than 50 pounds of protective gear in their jobs, haul heavy firehoses, and lift and maneuver stretchers around tight corners or contort themselves to extract accident victims from cars.

“Our research thus far indicates that worksite exercise training for back and core muscles is a potentially useful countermeasure to reduce risk of low back pain in firefighters,” Dr. Mayer said.

                                                                                                                                                                -USF Health-

USF Health’s mission is to envision and implement the future of health. It is the partnership of the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, the College of Nursing, the College of Public Health, the College of Pharmacy, the School of Biomedical Sciences and the School of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences; and the USF Physician’s Group. The University of South Florida is a Top 50 research university in total research expenditures among both public and private institutions nationwide, according to the National Science Foundation. For more information, visit


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