Simple gait analysis detects signs of injury and monitors recovery
As the London Broncos rugby league team gears up for the start of a new Super League season, an innovative technology from European Technology for Business is helping them achieve full fitness. gaitSMART monitors a player’s movements, so any sign of injury is immediately picked up and damage can either be treated proactively or prevented. Following treatment, gaitSMART allows monitoring of the player to ensure the optimum path back to full fitness.
Denis Hodgins from European Technology for Business says: “gaitSMART takes objective information about how a person walks or runs and turns it into a meaningful report. A sports physiotherapist can utilise this data to either identify the problem or to objectively manage the rehabilitation process. To protect long-term health they want to ensure their gait returns to normal after injury. gaitSMART detects movement abnormalities that even the most trained eye can’t pick up, providing an early indication of any problems.”
Light-weight sensors are attached to both calves and both thighs, and monitor the movement of the calf and thigh relative to each other. In a normal gait the calf swings forwards directly under the knee, but it is common for the lower leg to move out of plane, sideways for example.
John Miles, Head Physiotherapist for the London Broncos, plans to screen the entire squad multiple times during the season. He says: “We have been working with gaitSMART over the last season and into this forthcoming season. The information on gait analysis has allowed us to monitor on-going pathologies and also implement preventative strategies which we can then measure objectively.”
In addition to detailed graphs, gaitSMART is able to provide a comparison with standardised data for healthy individuals. A report with a traffic light system is available on all analysis. Green is ‘normal’ but amber gives some cause for concern and would, for example, mean the person should avoid high-impact situations such as road running. Anyone with a red score should seek immediate attention.
Denis says: “The traffic light system gives a clear indication of the problem area and allows the physiotherapist to take action based upon the information provided. In one high-profile case, the traffic light system was instrumental in identifying that despite all medical efforts a Broncos player was not able to achieve anywhere near a normal gait profile. He was still training despite an injury, but in doing so was putting himself at risk from greater damage.”
The London Knee Clinic, at London Bridge Hospital, uses gaitSMART as an integral part of its diagnosis and treatment. A reading is taken before treatment, and then repeated on a number of occasions to monitor recovery. One sign that someone hasn’t recovered well from an injury is a lack of symmetry, and the graphs allow objective comparisons between left and right.
The business was founded by Denis and Diana Hodgins, both trained engineers. They had spent 14 years running a design consultancy during which time they developed high-tech motion sensing systems.
The gaitSMART sensors contain three gyroscopes and a three-axis accelerometer. One of the engineering challenges was to develop the electronics to write this data to an SD card. This data is encrypted so can’t be accessed by, for example, other teams wanting information about a player’s fitness.
Alternative variants of the gaitSMART system are available and the potential applications are tremendous, ranging from helping people with prosthetic limbs improve their walking (ensuring that movement in the good limb remains healthy), to acting as an early warning system for elderly patients at risk of falling (prevention is cheaper and better then cure). The Olympic riding team are also benefitting from gaitSMART, and it’s not just for the humans! It can be used to asses a rider’s performance and European Technology for Business’ equine derivative is used to detect signs of injury in their horses.
Written by Victoria Ellis