Disclosure: We do not have a commercial relationship with or represent the products discussed in this series of posts.
We highlight them because they reflect current trends in technology and its impacts on health and fitness management.
Preventing, identifying and quickly recovering from injuries are 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. As an international team of researchers recently asserted in their aptly titled paper, Lack of exercise is major cause of chronic diseases: “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 better and longer, keep moving and stay fit.
These are important objectives to discuss with our doctors during regular visits and medical checkups. Unfortunately, the lack of easily obtainable performance measures kept us from effectively preventing, identifying and correcting injuries until they worsened and interfered with our life. Once more serious conditions set in, however, diagnosis, evaluation and treatment usually shifted to orthopedic specialists and surgeons. Over half a million knee arthroscopic surgeries are performed in the Unites 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 usually 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. We have been using the RunScribe system to measure, analyze and reduce 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 smart phone app is used to download the data and upload them to cloud servers, where they are processed through a mathematical model that extracts detailed metrics, 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 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.
Measuring muscle output
We use the Athos athletic fitness system to evaluate the energy output of different muscle groups during exercise. The system uses clothing with embedded sensors and small computer modules that are snapped onto each garment. The modules connect to a smart phone app that displays output energy levels for major muscle groups in the upper torso, gluts, quads and hamstrings. These are logged and can be accessed and replayed at any time. The Athos system helped us realize that even relatively minor injuries can significantly affect muscle energy output. The body instinctively adapts to discomfort by shifting physical effort from muscles in the affected area to their counterparts (opposite side). The shift can affect supporting muscle groups as well. For example, we noted how a minor right ankle sprain changed a runner’s gate and reduced muscle energy output in his right glut and quad, while increasing the energy output on the left side muscle groups. Similar effects were observed with a minor shoulder injury, which affected the relative output of the pectoralis major (pects), and arm swing, which in turn affected the person’s running gate, gluts and major leg muscles. We used the Athos system to tweak form and technique, which lead to better bilateral distribution of effort as reflected in left-right muscle energy output.
The Athos athletic fitness system was also used during the recovery process of a person who had undergone meniscus surgery. Muscle output was measured during each exercise; the trainer adjusted body mechanics and form to ensure that muscles surrounding the affected knee joint were being properly exercised. The Athos system and RunScribe were later used as the subject returned to his customary running routines to ensure proper form and reduce impact forces, pronation and muscle output imbalance. Skulpt scans provided additional validation that muscle quality in the affected leg was improving as expected.
The systems covered in this series represent the early phase of instrumenting the human body and his personal environment. 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. These systems are becoming equivalent to each person undergoing multiple health and fitness checks every day of their life. It’s notable that they operate outside of the traditional medical establishment and with limited physician involvement. Fitness professionals and physical therapists are increasingly the ones who evaluate and address non-catastrophic and chronic injuries.
In the next post we’ll focus on the (near) future of health and fitness technology and their likely impacts on our lives.
OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES
- 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/
- RunScribe, http://runscribe.com/
- Skulpt Scanner, https://www.skulpt.me/