The Expanding Role of Biometric Sensors in Sports Medicine
February 15, 2023
Innovations in Orthopaedics | Winter 2023
Sponsored by The Aircast Foundation, the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM) recently awarded a prestigious Playmaker Grant to James Voos, MD, chair of University Hospitals Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Charles H. Herndon Professor and chair at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and head team physician for the Cleveland Browns.
The grant will support Dr. Voos and orthopaedic specialists at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center in an investigation of a novel muscle oxygen (SmO2) sensor to monitor patients’ rehabilitation after ACL reconstruction. The monitor uses near-infrared spectroscopy that measures oxygenation and deoxygenation in capillaries and muscle tissue.
The primary stabilizing knee ligament, ACL tears are one of the most common knee injuries in sports.
“We are seeing an increase in ACL injury in professional and youth athletes,” says Dr. Voos. “While return-to-sport outcomes are high following reconstruction, it can be challenging for individuals to regain their prior level of performance. Our hope is that adding muscle oxygen monitoring will provide valuable guidance for rehabilitation plans.”
In a recent article, Dr. Voos discussed the growing impact of wearable technology.1 As wireless sensors become more sophisticated and cost-effective for the consumer market, their application in sports and orthopaedic medicine is prolific. They offer the potential for real-time monitoring of biomechanical performance and fatigue. “Generating a personal movement profile can help us identify someone who needs more physical therapy or might be able to speed up their recovery,” says Dr. Voos. “The data becomes highly prescriptive in helping patients through their journey.”
Additionally, wearable technology is playing an increasing role in injury prediction, prevention and recovery in professional sports. As the medical partner for the Cleveland Browns, sports medicine experts at University Hospitals have collaborated on investigations of sensors implanted in braces or apparel to refine training programs.
“Historically, most of the ways we have helped people return from rehab have been subjective, looking at range of motion or symmetry,” says Dr. Voos. “With wearable sensors, we are able to analyze biometric data that quantifies how the body’s physiology is improving.”
Wearable Movement Sensors Predict Injury Risk
In partnership with the Cleveland Browns, Dr. Voos and his colleagues utilized wearable sensors to study the relationship between workload and soft tissue injury. Movement-based sensors common to sports medicine rely on global positioning satellite (GPS) and triaxial accelerometry to measure variables, including energy expenditure, position, impact and balance. Data collected during pre- and regular-season practices led researchers to conclude that a sudden increase in workload may be associated with an increased rate of soft tissue injuries, particularly in professional football’s preseason.
“We learned that there is a potential opportunity to reduce risk of soft tissue injury by developing training schedules that gradually increase in intensity,” says Dr. Voos.
The Competitive Edge
As wearable technology continues to evolve, it is intersecting with a growing demand for improved player safety at all levels of competition. The ability to track functional movement and measure the relationship of training load to injury is helping sports medicine physicians develop player-specific treatment plans that optimize performance and safety. “Using what is known as the ‘acute to chronic workload ratio [ACWR],’ we can predict the likelihood of a recurrent injury and draw up individualized workout regimes that reduce that risk,” says Dr. Voos.
Return to Play
Another application for wearable technology is determining when an injured player can safely retake the field. Past protocols following injury were often based on preset timetables. In conjunction with existing reinjury prevention programs, workload data gathered from sensors help physicians and trainers compare pre- and post-injury performance and guide players to appropriate training loads. “Whether we are working with an elite-level or youth athlete, everyone has a different goal and outcome they are striving for,” says Dr. Voos. “We are committed to personalizing each patient’s recovery and helping them return to their sport in a safe manner.”
For more information, contact Dr. Voos at James.Voos@UHhospitals.org.
James Voos, MD
Chair, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery
Jack and Mary Herrick Distinguished Chair, Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine
University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center
Charles H. Herndon Professor and Chair
Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine
Head Team Physician, Cleveland Browns
Medical Director, Cleveland Ballet