July 26, 2022

Squad goals: tackling AI-led injury prevention in football

— Author: Editorial Staff

11.4 km in 90 minutes.

According to a FIFA study, that’s how much ground elite football players covered on average per game in the 2018 World Cup. That’s running, sprinting, backpedaling, jogging, fast-paced turns and performing sudden changes in movements. With sports teams making significant investments in data collection, wearables, and digital equipment, recording these movements can help predict athlete performance and reduce the possibility of high-risk injuries. AI is quickly emerging as the new tool in the sports medkit.

Altruistic is building a digital ecosystem for the club using AI and machine learning for Bristol City FC. “Using a data-driven approach to measuring all aspects of player interactions on and off the field will go a long way into injury prediction and prevention. We’re excited to build this unique platform with the club. Dave Rennie’s dedication to protecting his players and using data for better injury assessment is inspiring to work with” said Robert Maguire, founder and CEO, Altruistic.

The best sports teams in the world have turned to the use of wearable technology to measure movements and physical attributes during practice and to optimise training routines. By adding artificial intelligence into the mix, the team will understand their bodies better on and off-field and stay in optimal shape using the insights. AI will help coaches and managers continually scan data in real-time to look for early warning signs of muscle wear and tear, development of cardiovascular or musculoskeletal conditions, and identify players at risk of injury.

Dave Rennie, Head of Medical Performance at Bristol City FC, said, “From some preliminary results, we already know we need to change track with certain individuals. Help them be robust over the close season. Using the results from these tests, we can try and prevent injuries during the pre-season period because that is a hugely important time for us as a club.” Having worked in movement analysis before with the NHS, Rennie is optimistic. “It’s a huge opportunity for us to come into a collaborative venture with Altruistic. The players are welcoming new ideas and starting to question their knowledge of themselves and how they can improve their performance. These are key things for us.

Testing their mettle

Sebastian Kunz, Altruistic Project Director and a consultant orthopaedic and trauma surgeon, works with ten biomechanists from London South Bank University to test the whole squad. “We are assessing them in terms of functional capacity. We have one station where we assess the motion, one station for muscle quality, and another where we analyse the Achilles tendon quality of each player”, he said.

The Altruistic team conducted tests at the Robins High Performance Centre for two days. They collected data on how players move and jump with state-of-the-art infrared camera systems and anatomical markers. “Using kinematics and kinetics, we calculated how much load is on their ankles, the knees and the hips as they jump. With this, we created a 3D model that translates into meaningful data”, said Kunz. The team analysed the player’s hamstrings and quadriceps at the muscle testing station to understand their strength and muscle architecture. Understanding deficits and working on them could mean saving the player from the risk of injury.

Innovation leads the charge

With dynamometry and ultrasound, we calculated the stiffness and strain of the Achilles tendon. We can then provide players with detailed plans on what they can do to strengthen it. It will help a player perform better and reduce injuries”, said Kunz. Altrusitic’s innovation meant biomechanists could measure the strength of tendons for the first time.

We absolutely believe in data-driven decisions.” All the individual data collected by our experts will help the club develop bespoke training plans for each player. “By integrating all the data points we have collected, we can design and create the digital ecosystem where all the data points are feeding together and meeting together to give us meaningful and actionable insights” said Kunz.

The use of AI to predict when players are most susceptible to an injury will not only be the next game-changing innovation for competitive sports teams but has the power to leave a lasting impact on everyday life. The data gathered and algorithms created are only a starting point to bringing injury prevention technology to the mass market.

The OCED reported that healthcare costs across Europe had risen by 3% each year between 2013 and 2019, compared to a 0.7% year-on-year increase from 2008 to 2013. In the US, spending on healthcare rose by nearly a trillion dollars between 2009 to 2019. With rising healthcare costs and public healthcare quickly becoming a burden for western governments, AI-led injury prevention offers a new tool to help governments reduce patient care costs and spending on public insurance.

For AI solutions to be embraced by the healthcare industry, it has to offer to hospitals such as efficiency, improved diagnostics, and something for the patient, notably personalised treatment, and better quality of healthcare” says Maguire.

Hospitals are attempting to use AI-led injury prevention in post-op care to stop fall-related injuries in patients. The technology can help reduce insurance premiums and payouts, as the insurance sector attempts to use patient data to identify at-risk individuals in the elderly population.

Download the case study here.

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