Can Wearable Technology Help Prevent Some Sports Injuries?

"Wearable technology" is a term heard with increasingly frequency in the field of sports medicine. Various devices are designed to be worn by athletes, not only to measure their performance, but also to help prevent injury.

Two of the more popular devices being used recently are GPS technology and helmet sensors. They're used in a variety of sports, including football, basketball, lacrosse, and hockey. Here's what you need to know about each, whether you're an athlete or the parent of one:

GPS devices

This technology tracks a wealth of data as athletes compete, including his or her running motion, speed, heart rate, and force of any impacts. Software can create an individual profile for each athlete, including injury history.

GPS technology has been used in extensively in Australian Rules Football and European rugby, and it's becoming more popular in the U.S.  The idea is that by seeing and analyzing data almost immediately, a player can be rested if he is at risk for injury.

Several pro and college football teams have used GPS in the United States. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State University's head coach, is a big believer in its benefit and says it has helped greatly reduce injuries on his team, particularly soft-tissue injuries. These types of injuries include hamstring and calf muscle pulls.

The device is useful in providing data on individual players in team sports, each of who has a different fitness level, physique, and physical demands due to the position played. A coach or trainer can use this information to help protect players during games and also to alter practices if necessary.

Helmet sensors

We're becoming more and more aware of the danger of concussions, particularly in the long term. As a result, some youth and high school football teams in the U.S. are equipping helmets with sensors designed to detect hard hits to the head. They're also used in the Arena Football League and by several college football teams during their practices.

Sensors cause a light to flash to indicate a particularly hard hit that may put the athlete at risk for a concussion. This information is transmitted to a handheld unit that can alert a coach or trainer to the fact that an athlete needs to be monitored and possibly taken out of the game or practice.

Some people question the sensors' accuracy, however, and they can't detect whether a concussion has actually occurred. In addition, they can measure one hard hit, when a concussion sometimes results from repeated hits rather than one devastating blow.

The sensors may prove to be a helpful tool, but experts say they shouldn't result in a false sense of security.

Ultimately, technology can help athletes by giving coaches, trainers, and parents more information about conditions that could increase the risk of injury. If you're interested in trying something new, a sports medicine doctor can give you advice on its effectiveness and any possible limitations.