Preventing and quickly recovering from injuries is critical to living high-quality, long lives because injuries often prevent us from staying active. Lack of physical activity promotes chronic illness, lower quality of life, and high mortality. An international team of researchers recently concluded that "Chronic diseases are major killers in the modern era. Physical inactivity is a primary cause of most chronic diseases... the body rapidly maladapts to insufficient physical activity, and if continued, results in substantial decreases in both total and quality years of life. Taken together, conclusive evidence exists that physical inactivity is one important cause of most chronic diseases. In addition, physical activity primarily prevents, or delays, chronic diseases, implying that chronic disease need not be an inevitable outcome during life." In other words, if you want to live a long, healthy life, keep moving and stay fit.
Staying fit is one of the most important objectives to discuss during medical visits, particularly after an injury. Unfortunately, the lack of easily obtainable physiological performance data often delays and complicates recovery. It sometimes leads to more serious conditions requiring treatment from specialists like orthopedics and surgeons. For example, over half a million knee arthroscopic surgeries are performed in the United States every year. One of the most common is torn meniscus repair, a condition caused by a tear or break of the cartilage in the knee joint caused by repeated impacts or aging-related degradation. Meniscus injuries often begin with small tears that fail to heal in part due to limited blood circulation in the joint. They generally go unnoticed until a piece of cartilage starts flapping or completely tears away causing inflammation and pain. Surgeons use MRIs to evaluate the condition and define a course of action, which usually involves removing the offending piece.
Emerging technologies will soon help prevent chronic meniscus and other joint injuries by reducing impacts and improving fitness. One example is the RunScribe system which measures impact forces, pronation, and other factors that contribute to chronic joint injuries. The system is composed of two small shoe-mounted units with integrated 9-point accelerometers that automatically start capturing and storing measurements when they detect running motions. A smartphone app uploads the data to cloud servers for analysis. The results are then transmitted to the app, which displays a wealth of information, including G force, pronation, and comparative foot impact values referenced to thousands of other runs.
RunScribe offers two service levels, User and Researcher, with the latter having more detailed data and local download capabilities. We use impact data to tweak the running gate, foot contact, and energy transfer, and to evaluate the stability and shock-absorbing qualities of running shoes. The system enabled us to measurably reduce shock, improve stability, and reduce torque at the knee joint, which should help prevent future joint injuries, including meniscus tears.
RunScribe sensors are attached to running
shoes through their laces or via heel clips.
They are small and weigh only a few ounces.
Measuring muscle output
We use the Athos athletic fitness system to evaluate the energy output of large muscle groups during exercise. The system uses clothing with embedded sensors and small computer modules. The system connects to a smartphone app that displays energy levels for major muscle groups including pecs, glutes, quads, and hamstrings. These are logged and can be accessed and replayed at any time. The Athos system helped us recognize how even relatively minor injuries can significantly affect muscle energy output. The body instinctively adapts to injury by shifting physical work from injured to counterparts on the opposite side of the body. This shift also affects supporting muscle groups. For example, we noted how a minor right ankle sprain changed a runner's gate and reduced muscle energy output in his right glute and quad while increasing the energy output on the opposite muscle groups. Similar effects were observed with a minor shoulder injury, which affected the relative output of the pectoralis major (pecs), and arm swing, which in turn affected the person's running gate, glutes, and major leg muscles.
We have used the Athos system during post-operative physical therapy to improve the energy output and distribution between injured joints and muscles, and their healthy counterparts. Muscle output was measured and evaluated by a trainer during each exercise. She then made adjustments to form and function to effectively engage the damaged knee and surrounding muscles. The Athos and RunScribe systems were later used to help the subject avoid reinjury as he returned to active sports like running and basketball. Skulpt scans provided additional validation that muscle quality in the affected leg was improving as expected.
Athos system includes exercise garments with
integrated sensors that detect the energy output
of major muscle groups. The data is processed
and displayed on a related smartphone app.
The systems covered in this series represent important advancements in instrumenting the human body. These and other devices like fitness monitors are already capturing more health, fitness, and lifestyle data on a yearly basis than previous generations collected in a lifetime. Data storage and analysis are increasingly carried out in the cloud, where more powerful computers and algorithms can be applied to growing datasets. Continuous monitoring allows users and their doctors to identify and address physiological issues before they become serious chronic conditions. It's notable that these advances originated within the fitness and athletic industries, rather than traditional medical device manufacturing.
In the next post, we'll focus on the (near) future of health and fitness technology and their impacts on our lives.
Posts in this series
1. Technology and the future of healthcare
2. The tech behind the healthcare revolution
3. Tech to peek inside
4. Upgrading health checkups with cutting edge tech - Part 1
5. Upgrading health checkups - Part 2
6. A tale of two industries: healthcare and fitness
7. It's in the genes
Frank W. Booth, Christian K. Roberts, Matthew J. Lave, Lack of exercise is a major cause of chronic diseases, retrieved May 24, 2017, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4241367/
Knee arthroscopic surgery, Encyclopedia of Surgery, retrieved May 25, 2017, http://www.surgeryencyclopedia.com/Fi-La/Knee-Arthroscopic-Surgery.html
Athos Fitness, https://www.liveathos.com/
Skulpt Scanner, https://www.skulpt.me/