For those people who participate in competitive sports, athletic injury and related pain are not uncommon. Even without being an athlete yourself, you’re likely no stranger to some of the worst injuries that have been sustained by professional athletes. Mary Pierce and her torn ACL, Willis McGahee’s broken leg post-collision on the field, or Tony Saunder’s (Devil Rays’ pitcher) breaking his arm while throwing a pitch are just a few noteworthy examples. More recently, we saw Peyton Manning sidelined with a neck injury that kept him from participating in this year’s NFL season.
It is injuries like these and research being conducted in the world of biomechanics that is helping today’s athletes make strides in improving their form and physical durability.
Research and evaluation into biomechanics has resulted in new technology that allows experts to capture the movements of an athlete and analyze those movements via specialized software. The takeaways from the analysis are used to help educate and train athletes to move in the most effective and efficient ways to reduce injury and maximize outcomes. While much of this technology is emerging from colleges and universities around the U.S. and in turn, helping keep college athletes operating at peak performance, the same technology is also being used by professional athletes and their trainers.
As Jeff Fish, director of athletic performance for the Atlanta Falcons explains in a recent article covering biomechanics, “You have to look at the movement. It’s so much bigger than just is this player strong, is this player fast.” And with the help of Emory’s Dr. Spero G. Karas, head team physician for the Falcons, the team has one of the lowest injury rates in the NFL.
To help keep injury rates low and enhance performance among the Falcons, a fairly scientific process is in place. More than once a year, each player from the Falcons goes through “functional movement screening,” during which their strengths and weaknesses from a biomechanical movement standpoint are evaluated and they are each given a healthy motion score. After each player’s risk factors are evaluated, a customized plan is developed for each of them. Plan success is determined based on changes in the healthy motion score gleaned from the functional movement screenings.
Furthermore, now when a Falcons player is injured, that healthy motion score provides a baseline for team physicians such as Dr. Spero Karas to use to measure improvement in the athlete’s range of motion after injury and rehabilitation.
As Dr. Karas explains, “I can use that objective data that was generated before the athlete was injured to help me evaluate the athlete at the time of return to play.”
These are some pretty amazing developments for the athletic and medical worlds. For years, we’ve seen players watch their own game footage/tapes for insight into how they can better execute each play on the field. Now, with the help of biomechanics, functional movement screenings, and experts such as Dr. Spero Karas, those same players can learn how to fine tune their movements before taking the field to ensure the outcomes once there are the best they can be.