Cynthia R. LaBella, MD

Clinical and Community Trials
Pronouns: She, Her

“For the past 20 years, I have focused on researching risk factors for injury in youth sports and developing strategies for injury prevention. My goal is to expand opportunities for all youth to reap all the health benefits of participating in sports and physical activities while reducing their risk for injury.”

Research Interests

  • Sports Injury Prevention
  • Concussion
  • Sports Specialization


  • Medical Director, Institute for Sports Medicine, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago
  • Professor of Pediatrics, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

See Lurie Children's Provider Profile

Cynthia R. LaBella, MD, is board certified in both Pediatrics and Sports Medicine. She joined Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in 2004 to develop a comprehensive program in pediatric sports medicine, encompassing clinical care, research, and community outreach.

Dr. LaBella has served as team physician for youth, high school, college, elite, and professional teams. She is currently the head team physician for USA Rhythmic Gymnastics, De La Salle High School, and North Side Youth Football League in Chicago.

Dr. LaBella is past chairperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness (COSMF) from 2014 to 2019, and prior to this she served for seven years on the COSMF executive committee as its policy coordinator. In 2020, she was selected to serve on the President’s Council for Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition Science Board. Dr. LaBella is an active member of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), where she has contributed as a co-author on several team physician consensus statements. In 2020, she was elected to the Board of Directors for the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM), serves as chair for the AMSSM Practice and Policy Committee, and is a member of the AMSSM Collaborative Research Network Leadership Team. Dr. LaBella also serves on sports medicine advisory committees for the Illinois High School Association, US Soccer, and Pop Warner Football. 

Dr. LaBella’s research efforts focus on identification of risk factors for injury in youth sports and development of strategies for prevention. She won two awards for her 2006 research demonstrating that a coach-led neuromuscular warm-up reduces knee and ankle injuries in girls’ soccer and basketball at Chicago Public High Schools. This study was published in the November 2011 issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. She also co-authored a 2015 study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine which was the first to show that sports specialization is an independent risk factor for injury in children and adolescents. Her collaborative research with Northwestern University Department of Neuroscience has led to development of a novel auditory test that can help identify concussions and monitor recovery. Since the initial publication of this research in Nature’s Scientific Reports in 2016, Dr. LaBella and her collaborators have received a large grant from the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment for a longitudinal study of this auditory test in the clinical setting and to evaluate rhythm training as a potential treatment for prolonged recovery in pediatric concussion. 


Education and Background

  • Fellowship in Primary Care Sports Medicine, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 1999-2001
  • Internship and Residency, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics 1994-1997
  • MD, Cornell University Medical College 1990-1994
  • BS in Biology, Cornell University 1986-1990

Research Highlights


The primary aim of this research is to measure and describe auditory processing in a diverse group of children diagnosed with a concussion and to accurately map stepwise improvement in auditory processing skills as children recover from their concussions. We are using two tests of auditory processing: (1) a test of the ability to understand speech in noise, which simulates everyday environments such as classrooms; and (2) a subcortical electrophysiological test of the integrity of sound processing in the central nervous system, called the frequency-following response (FFR). Uniquely, the FFR requires no behavioral response from patients, meaning it is a completely objective test. A secondary aim of this study is to investigate the effects of concussion on rhythmic skills. We hypothesize that concussions acutely disrupt rhythm abilities and predict that these disruptions to rhythm skills will correlate with disruptions to cognition and auditory-temporal processing. To investigate this specifically, we will use Interactive Metronome® (IM) platform, which evaluates children’s rhythm skills with respect to synchrony and accuracy.


This study evaluated a warm-up of neuromuscular training exercises in girls high school basketball and soccer athletes. The teams that used the warm-up had significantly lower rates of knee sprains, ankle sprains and ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injuries compared to teams that did not use the warm-up. Learn how to implement this warm-up for free.

Featured Grants

Disseminating AMSSM Youth Sports Toolkit Messages to the Community through KIPP Programs with Our Organizational Partners

AMSSM CRN Youth Sport Community Engagement Award

Auditory Processing and Rhythm Abilities in Children Recovering from a Concussion

National Operating Committee for Standards in Athletic Equipment and National Association of Music Merchants

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