New technology gives teams, trainers edge in injury assessment

The Denver Post 

The NFL is all in. Digital playbooks. GPS technology. Even virtual reality training.

The league that took more than a decade to fully accept instant replay is embracing and promoting new technology.

Many trainers and conditioning coaches have, too.

Loren Landow, the director of Steadman Hawkins Sports Performance in Englewood and the training guru to many Broncos and other NFL players, has been testing another new toy to improve his clients' performance, monitor their recovery and reduce their risk of injury.

His new toy? ViPerform, a biomechanical analysis technology by the Australian-based company dorsaVi that measures an athlete's movements so trainers and coaches can assess injury risk and tailor treatment programs.

ViPerform uses sensors that send data wirelessly to a computer in real-time and are synced with HD video to show how the measurements correlate with the movements.

In short: ViPerform can instantly reveal what the naked eye can't. How much force is a player putting on one leg in comparison to the other? How unstable is the knee that recently underwent surgery? How much is a player at risk of getting injured?

Landow can tell you. He can even tell you while you're two miles away jogging around the block, thanks to ViPerform's pocket-sized sensors.

But like with any new technology, the question is always: Then what?

"A lot of people start putting them on guys and they're like, 'Oh, cool, we got these numbers,' " Landow said. "But until you actually plug those numbers in and do something with it, it's just a bell and whistle."

ViPerform, which costs $8,100 per year, is used by two NFL teams — the New Orleans Saints and Cleveland Browns — as well as the NBA's Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets and New York Knicks, and Major League Soccer's Toronto FC.

Landow, whose clinic was the first in the United States to adopt ViPerform, has put the data to work for the past 18 months. Using its six assessment modules, he can see where an athlete is weakest, then build or alter a training program to address shortcomings.

He can track the recovery of athletes after surgery. He can show clients clear proof that an area they had thought was fine really isn't. And he can consistently monitor offseason workouts of the many NFL players who roam in and out of his clinic to recover from the previous season and prepare for the next one.

"We can take an assessment to tell an athlete, 'Here's where your weaknesses are today,' " Landow said. " 'How can we make your strengths even better and how can we eradicate some of those weaknesses to allow you to handle the stresses in your sport.' "

The ViPerform is one of many new wearable technologies used for injury assessment in sports.

Catapult, another Australian-based company, uses palm-sized GPS devices that have a trio of sensors to track players in action. While ViPerform's technology is primarily an assessment tool, Catapult's devices are often used during practices with the goal that one day they will be allowed in games.

The device, attached between an athlete's shoulder blades, can track and record every micromovement of a player. It then spits out a thousand data points per second that are filtered through Catapult's algorithms and, if necessary, further interpreted by its sports science experts to provide teams usable information. Information such as how hard a player is going, and if that player is going too hard.

"We had a (NFL) team use it last year, and they went from having 16 guys on the injured reserve to three," said Brian Kopp, Catapult's president of North America. "They said it was purely because they were monitoring players in practice. If guys got outside a certain range, they would have them sit out."

Twenty NFL teams now use Catapult, whose devices cost $2,500 to $3,000 apiece per year. Some teams are shelling out more than $200,000 annually to improve player health and performance.

"Coaches are looking for an edge," Kopp said. "A lot of coaches think having access to the technology gives them the edge. It all comes down to how you use it. The smartest teams understand that."

Sports go high-tech

Catapult and dorsaVi aren't the only companies whose technologies are being used by teams and leagues to assess injury risk. A look at some of the others whose products are in use or in development:

Zebra Technologies: The NFL partnered with Zebra to use its player tracking system in many stadiums, including Sports Authority Field. It is used to enhance fan experience and monitor player activity in practice to reduce injury risk.

MuscleSound: The Denver-based company's software can instantly read ultrasound images, allowing teams to measure body composition and glycogen levels. The Rockies are among its customers.

CereScan: The brain imaging company out of Littleton whose scans can detect brain injuries that might not show up on X-Rays, magnetic resonance images or CT scans is partnered with the Denver Outlaws.

I-Portal PAS goggle: Dr. Michael Hoffer, a University of Miami otolaryngologist, received a $500,000 grant from the NFL to develop portable concussion-detecting goggles.

Kitman Labs: Its software allows teams to create in-depth player profiles to manage and analyze medical and performance data.