Nov 28, 2016Armed and Ready
Being surrounded by experts from a variety of fields is one of the benefits of working on a college campus. This recently played out at the University of Georgia when the College of Engineering developed a custom wrist brace for Bulldog running back Sony Michel to protect a healing injury.
During the offseason prior to the 2016 campaign, Michel was involved in an ATV accident. He broke both arms in his forearm, and they pierced through the skin. The fractures were plated, and a full recovery was expected.
When it came time for the season to start, however, Ron Courson, ATC, PT, NREMT-I, CSCS, Senior Associate Athletics Director and Director of Sports Medicine at Georgia, was worried about Michel using his forearm on the field. One of his concerns centered on Michel needing stability without losing tactile sensing.
“He obviously plays the sport, and being a running back, gets hit a lot,” Courson said in a video released by UGA Engineering and reported by DawgNation. “So we were trying to think outside the box — the best way to make something very strong and very light — so we asked to partner with the school of biomedical engineering. We took Sony over to their lab and they did a 3-D digitization of his forearm. They actually did a 3-D model exactly of his forearm, and then we made a custom carbon fiber brace there.”
The 3-D scanner is often used with small objects, which are moved within the view of the scanner. In this case, the opposite approach was used, and the scanner was moved around Michel’s arm.
“After we finished the 3-D printing process, we put the arm right next to mine, which is three times larger than my forearm,” Zion Tse, PhD, Assistant Professor in the College of Engineering, said. “It is huge.”
The general design of the brace kept the inside of the forearm open so Michel could still feel the football when carrying it. The end product is stable but lightweight.
“You’ve got to trust the process,” Michel said. “It was taking different pictures of my arm, and it was kind of weird at the beginning because they only had one part of my arm — not the other. But when it came together, it was kind of cool that they could rotate it around.”
Creating the brace took about a week. On the field, the brace adds security without being obtrusive.
“When I’m out there, I don’t even realize that it’s on my wrist unless it kind of slips down, and I’ve just got to adjust it,” Michel said. “But just playing, I don’t even realize it. You know it’s kind of helping me go on, be more confident about my game, go on out there using that arm — kind of just playing.”
Wearing the brace, Michel rushed for 753 yards and three touchdowns in the 2016 season. Such a positive outcome from the collaboration with the College of Engineering may pave the way for more partnerships in the future.
“One of the unique things about being on a college campus is many times you have so many resources, and you want to take advantage of them,” said Courson. “I think this was the first one, but I think there’s many things to come from it.”