President and CEO of Lucid Lane . Software technology expert and digital health advocate.
Pain treatment has come a long way from tape and ice. Today’s top athletes are using technology to reduce inflammation, improve hydration and nutrition and focus on mental health, enabling faster recovery, better pain management and, ultimately, more competitive performance.
The sports tech sector is expected to reach over $30 billion by 2024 as athletes seek to gain whatever edge they can find over their competition. Notably, many of these technologies focus on the whole athlete: from mental health to physical strength to the right combination of electrolyte and fluid intake. With these advances, athletes can train smarter and recover better.
Compression Boots To Aid Recovery
Companies like NormaTec, Rapid Reboot and Air Relax are offering pneumatic recovery units to help athletes enhance blood flow and circulation, improving recovery after a hard workout or big game. Depending on the device, pneumatic units pump air into large boots or sleeves, which inflate while giving the sensation of a massage.
The boots’ intermittent compression has been shown to result in increased limb blood flow.
The NBA is using pneumatic boots and sleeves to shorten warmup times before games. The Oklahoma Thunder, including star player Kevin Durant, specifically use the NormaTec boots and sleeves to aid with recovery following games. Runners, too, use this technology to recover from hard workouts and prepare for races.
Wearable Tech To Prevent Injury
Wearable sensors have evolved beyond fitness trackers that capture heart rate, distance and pace. Today’s wearable technology can monitor for signs of trauma from physical impact. For example, according to an article from Ohio University, the Toronto Raptors “had the highest rate of player injury in the league in the 2012 season. Then they started using athletic wearable technology and monitoring players for early signs of soft tissue injury while practicing and playing. In the 2014 season, the Raptors had the least injuries of any team in the league.” The article also notes how Florida State Seminoles athletes began using wearable analytic devices made by Catapult and noticed an 88% reduction of injuries to soft tissues that same year.
In addition to preventing injury, wearable tech can help optimize other aspects of an athlete’s performance. Sensors in wearable tech—a broad category that includes wrist monitors, microsensors built into uniform material and even chips in an athlete’s shoe—can be used to track pulse and breathing patterns, acceleration, speed, distance and even sleep patterns. Some sensors also allow coaches to analyze the athlete’s personal body mechanics, thereby improving or adjusting techniques to avoid injury or reduce effort.
Low-Impact Machines For Rehab
Managing pain when coming back from an injury is also critical. Some athletes use low-impact treadmills and other machines to help with this process. The Alter G treadmill uses a brace to support the athlete’s weight in combination with a vacuum-sealed skirt that inflates to various pressures. Lever offers a similar device, which can take up to 45 pounds off an athlete’s body weight when running on a treadmill.
Data For Better Fuel And Hydration
At advanced training centers such as the St. Vincent Sports Performance in Indianapolis, where Olympic and professional athletes go for rehab and recovery, the focus has turned to body and hydration analysis. Technology such as the Bod Pod can detect even small changes in body fat and lean body mass. With this information, athletes can fine-tune their nutrition and hydration to optimize performance, prevent cramping and improve stamina.
Coaching To Train Your Brain
It’s become well accepted that pain has a psychological component. What’s less well understood is that even chronic pain can be treated via talk therapy. A recent study from the University of Colorado looked at the impact of “pain reprocessing therapy,” a treatment that teaches patients with chronic pain to reinterpret the feeling as a neutral sensation rather than something dangerous. The study found that as participants learned to see their pain as nonthreatening, they were able to reroute neural pathways that were generating pain signals and actually feel the pain subside. The study has remarkable implications for athletes and nonathletes alike.
In my work as co-founder of Lucid Lane, a teletherapy solution specializing in medication tapering from opioids and benzos, we see many current and former athletes recovering from injuries and/or surgery and managing chronic pain. In fact, these issues are so prevalent among athletes that our board of advisors includes NFL Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott, who’s active with numerous organizations that support post-career athlete health, including Hall of Fame Health.
Treating both acute and chronic injury involves modern methods and the latest technology, but it starts with the right mindset. Positive thinking, motivation and patience can all help athletes manage pain, stick to a recovery plan and optimize performance over time. Augmented with the right technology, athletes are turning to mental healthcare to talk through their pain and learn the techniques they need to get back on the field, track or court.
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