New Technology in Sports Medicine – 8 Most Impactful Inventions 2017
Athletes are some of the most injury-prone individuals. Strenuous physical activity during sports puts their bodies through extraordinary stresses, putting them at a much greater risk of concussions, tendon injuries, shin splits and so on. Sports medicine is an essential field that ensures athletes have an expert to turn to whenever they need to get back to full health. In the last decade, sports medicine has experienced an upsurge of advances fueled by better technology. Today, sports health professionals are able to apply safer and more effective treatments that get athletes back on their feet quicker than ever. Even better, professionals have access to better preventive methods and new technology in sports medicine that stop injuries from taking place or getting worse.
In the future, sports medicine can only get better. With an influx of new technology and innovations, athletes will be better protected from injuries. Here are the latest emerging advances in sports medicine. They include innovations that have come up in the last few years and those that will be present in the near future.
1. Injury-detecting sensors
An important part of keeping athletes fit and healthy lies in preventing serious injuries early on. If professionals could detect an injury on time, they could treat it before it gets worse and puts the player off the field. Increasingly, coaches are turning to sensors to achieve this.
These sensors are either attached directly on the body or come embedded in wearables (which we will talk about shortly) to be worn out in the field. For example, there are prototype sensors from MotusPro that can monitor arm movements in baseball and help players adopt the right movement ranges to avoid elbow injury. Though these sensors cannot be worn during official games, players can benefit from them during training.
In football, traumatic head injuries are common. Worst of all, they are hard to detect until it is too late when preventive measures barely have any effect. Now, there are sensors that can detect how hard a player has been hit and calculate the risk for serious injury. The system may even recommend a certain player take a break.
Early brain trauma detection
Researchers developed another sensor system that allows medics to detect brain trauma right there on the field. The VEPS sensor system comes in form of a helmet-like device that can be used to detect changes in the patient’s brain, which could signal brain injury. This enables quick treatment, which could prevent most of the negative effects associated with brain trauma.
In the coming years, we will see many more injury detecting and preventing sensors come up for all kinds of sports from running to soccer to swimming. These sensors will accomplish two main functions; either detect injury when it has occurred or monitor an athlete’s movements and warn them about an impeding injury. Athletes can then seek early treatment or adjust their movements to prevent injury.
The biggest challenge facing the adoption of these sensors is acceptance by league officials. Strict rules often prevent such sensors from being used in official games, denying athletes of their benefits during the most crucial times.
Wearables have exploded with an unprecedented vigor, with companies filling the market with them and customers eager for these new gadgets. Most wearables, including smartwatches, have been focused on health and fitness. They come loaded with sensors to monitor heart rate, keep track of daily activity, monitor breathing and so on.
Wearables are a perfect fit for sports medicine. They can be loaded with sensors and can be easily worn on the body to monitor health. While most wearables cannot be used during official games, they can prove quite beneficial during training. Currently, there are several wearables designed specifically for sports medicine.
There are wearables that monitor heartbeat and related metrics and calculate the amount of stress the athlete’s body is undergoing and recommends specific recovery times. Myontec produces intelligent clothing that monitors both the health and performance of an athlete.
Other wearables contain sensors to monitor things like pressure on joints, temperature and movement range among other metrics. They can warn the athlete when they are pushing their bodies too far and recommend the right movement ranges to prevent injury.
The wearables market for sports medicine will only grow larger as demand increases for ways to keep athletes injury-free. We will see advanced wearables that can even tell when an injury has taken place. These wearables will come in many forms including smart clothing, wrist-worn bands and watches, head gear, foot gear and so on.
3. Platelet rich plasma therapy
Human blood contains several components including red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. Platelets are important in blood clotting, an essential process in stopping bleeding from an injury. Platelets also contain various proteins called growth factors. They help promote tissue repair and healing.
Platelet rich plasma therapy or PRP is a therapy that involves treating an athlete’s injury with platelet rich plasma. Unlike normal blood, PRP contains a higher concentration of platelets. When used on a site of injury, PRP promotes accelerated tissue repair.
Whether it is joint pain, a torn tendon or a pulled muscle, platelet rich plasma can be used to speed up healing and get the athlete back on the field quicker.
Blood is taken from the athlete, processed to increase platelet concentration and then used on the site of injury. This treatment can even be used after surgery to boost healing. Other conditions where it can be used include muscle injuries, fractures and tendon injuries.
PRP therapy is not exactly a new thing, having been developed back in the 1970s. But it is only in recent years that it has been adopted in sports medicine. Famous athletes including Tiger Woods and Rafael Nadal have used it. With more and more research supporting its efficacy, a bigger number of athletes are turning to PRP to treat their injuries.
4. Radio frequency therapy
This is another treatment that has gained favor only in the last few years. It involves using radio waves to generate an electrical current that heats up a specific tissue area.
Athletes face plenty of pain-inducing conditions. In some cases temporary pain turns into chronic pain that negatively impacts their performance.
Chronic pain is especially common with Plantar Fasciitis or what is known as heel pain. Radio frequency therapy has proven to be an effective treatment for chronic pain in the heel, joint, back or muscles.
The treatment works by generating an electric current using radio waves. The current goes deep inside the body to a specific area where the pain is originating from.
The current heats up that specific area without causing any damage to surrounding tissue. This accomplishes two things. One, it triggers the body’s own healing mechanism to kick in.
Two, it dulls the small nerve endings in the area, which induces pain relief. This relief can last for months and sometimes even years after a single treatment.
One of the biggest advantages of radio frequency therapy is the lack of adverse side effects. There may be some soreness and swelling on the treatment region but it fades away after a few days. No long term negative effects have been observed. In fact the success rate is very high, with most patients experiencing pain relief and faster healing.
5. Microcurrent wound dressing
Wounds are common in the field. Collision with other players and falls are common causes of wounds. It is extremely essential that wounds be treated in the right manner. Even a small wound can develop serious complications when proper treatment and care are absent. Like with any other sports injury, the aim is to get the wound healing quickly and have the player back on the field as soon as possible.
To this end, researchers have created a new type of wound dressing that promotes faster healing through the use of microcurrents. The dressing is used when a player sustains an open injury or after surgery along the incision point.
This dressing comes with embedded microcell batteries that produce tiny amounts of electrical current when exposed to moisture. This is essentially the same mechanism used by the body to heal wounds. The body generates electrical signals to guide the migration of new cells to the wound site in a process called reepithelialisation.
The microcurrents in the dressing mimic this process to produce an enhanced wound healing effect. The result is faster healing and a quicker return to form for the athlete. Another important benefit of this technology is that it protects the injured area from dangerous microbes and pathogens.
There are numerous reports of athletes getting infected by drug-resistant microbes, which pose a major health risk.
Microcurrents dressing technology protects the wound and creates the ideal environment for healing.
6. Remote NMES therapy
NMES or Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation is a form of muscle rehabilitation used after surgery, injury or an illness. It is a widely preferred treatment thanks to its non-addictive and non-invasive nature. Electrical stimulus is applied, causing a muscle to continually contract and gradually regain its form and function.
In most cases NMES therapy is carried out in a clinical setting, which can potentially increase medical costs for the patient and deny them a familiar environment for best recovery. But home NMES therapy is starting to get popular with special NMES devices designed for personal use at home.
A group of researchers has gone a step further and created a wireless app-controlled NMES therapy system for home use.
The system captures various data metrics from therapy sessions and delivers real-time information via cloud to a physician. Medical professionals can easily interact with patients, setting goals and providing guidance. The transmitted data helps them monitor the patient’s progress.
In general, NMES therapy has been observed to lead to faster and more effective rehabilitation. This ensures that athletes are back in the field sooner and recovery costs do not go too high. This new NMES system is bound to produce even better results.
7. Advanced rehabilitation braces
Braces are an important part of rehabilitation from various ligament and muscle injuries. Rebound PCL is a new type of brace unlike any other in the market. Instead of simply offering rehabilitative support, it actively applies force to specific areas to promote faster healing.
The brace is designed specifically for use in treating injuries to the posterior cruciate ligament or what is commonly known as PCL. The PCL is one of major knee ligaments and plays an important role in leg movement.
Rebound PCL targets specific areas of the leg with dynamic levels of pressure, which helps boost repair of the ligament. This treatment method can be used after surgery, to enhance healing speed, or during non-surgical treatment of an injury.
The brace can be customized to fit an individual’s anatomy and rehabilitation requirements.
8. Laser biostimulation
If you look at most of the methods and technologies we have outlined above, you will notice that a good number of them rely on triggering or enhancing the body’s own healing mechanism. Laser biostimulation is yet another method that puts the body to work healing its own injuries.
This technology makes use of a laser that contains both infrared and visible light. These photons enter the body in their billions and target the injury area. Body tissue absorbs this energy and converts into chemical energy, which then triggers the body to begin self-repair.
The resulting effects included reduced inflammation, less pain and faster tissue healing and regeneration. Some of the conditions treated using this method includ:
- knee pain,
- tennis elbow,
- sprains and heel pain.
Essentially, any athletic injury involving pain or inflammation can be treated using laser biostimulation.
The treatment is painless and produces no heat, meaning no tissue is damaged. Additionally, no adverse side effects have been observed.
New Technology in Sports Medicine
Athletes face a set of conditions that puts them at constant risk of injury. The above innovations continue to play a big role in helping players maintain performance and stay active as long as possible.
In the coming years, new technology in sports medicine will only get better. For example, there is talk about using artificial intelligence to monitor players’ health data and movements to calculate the risk of injury.
This and other innovations are much welcome in a field of medicine that faces unending challenges.
Have we left out any emerging or future sports medicine technology? Feel free to mention it in the comments.
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