Injuries are the scourge of modern sport. They cost teams millions of dollars, and can have devastating consequences for players. During 2015, the estimated average cost of player injuries in the top four professional soccer leagues - the EPL, Bundesliga, La Liga and Serie A - was £62.4 million. In the NBA, knee injuries alone cost $358 million dollars last year, and the cost of injuries in Major League Baseball in 2014 totaled $1.4 billion.
The issue of injuries in sport shows no signs of abating either, despite advances in physiotherapy. In the NFL, Football Outsiders' found that injury totals have increased league-wide four years in a row, and the trend is the same across most sports. In a bid to put an end to this, many teams are signing on with the influx of new firms offering data analytics services to help prevent sports injuries and speed up recovery times.
The use of data analytics has been widespread in sports for a number of years, as an aid to both player and team performance. There is subsequently a wealth of data available to teams, and many already have sophisticated systems in place to gather information about their players. The MLB, for example, is in the process of installing cameras and other sensors in big league ballparks to monitor player’s every move during a game, while players in Rugby Union and the NFL have worn RFID sensors to measure performance data for a number of years.
Kitman Labs is one company making great strides in the field. Founded by former sports rehab coach Stephen Smith, Kitman’s philosophy is different to others, who try to implement a one-size-fits-all model. They believe that humans are too unique for this but require a tailored approach. They strive not to diagnose the problem, but to direct physios to where one may arise in the future. Their system requires players to check in at a Microsoft Kinect station each morning before training, at which players rotate their pelvises and stretch their hamstrings. The camera installed in the stations logs imperceptible changes in their motion and flexibility. They then fill out a short survey about their sleep, diet, soreness, and overall well-being. All of this information is then available to their trainers almost immediately on an online dashboard, which pinpoints any potential problem areas.
Technology companies such as Intel are also getting involved in the action. Intel is attempting to solve the problem of concussions in professional football, a problem that many thought could see the end of the NFL altogether. Intel are developing sensor technology embedded in football helmets that can gather data on the impact and severity of head injuries in youth through professional football. According to Intel engineer Bill Hannon, ‘Understanding the transfer of energy through a helmet and into the head in order to prevent brain damage is the goal.’
These systems are already seeing results. Kitman Labs and they competitor Catapult report that their customers see a 20-33% reduction in injury rates, while player availability can go up by as much as 10%. Florida State football team head coach Jimbo Fisher credits Catapult for the team's 88% fall in soft tissue injuries.
It is true that technology can’t prevent all injuries in high impact sports like rugby and pro football. It can, however, mitigate against them, and enable changes to technique, recovery, fitness and agility coaches, medical teams, and players can adopt them to help prevention and recovery.