Mar 13, 2017Braced for Impact
This article first appeared in the March 2017 issue of Training & Conditioning.
Being surrounded by a campus of experts from a variety of fields is one benefit of working in college athletics. The sports medicine staff at the University of Georgia recently took advantage of this perk by partnering with the College of Engineering to develop a custom forearm brace for an injured football player.
During the offseason prior to the 2016 campaign, junior running back Sony Michel was involved in an ATV accident. Both bones in his forearm were broken, piercing through the skin. The fractures were plated, and a full recovery was expected.
When it came time for the season, 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. Courson wanted to find a way to protect the healing injury.
“[Sony’s] obviously in a collision sport and, being a running back, gets hit a lot,” Courson said in a video released by UGA Engineering and reported by DawgNation. “We were trying to think outside the box-the best way to make something that would be very strong and very light. So we actually partnered with the school of biomedical engineering. We took Sony over to their lab, and they … actually made a 3-D model exactly of his forearm. Then, we made a custom carbon fiber brace.”
The College of Engineering’s 3-D scanner is often used with small objects, which are moved within its field of view. In this case, the opposite approach was used, and the scanner was moved around Michel’s arm due to its size.
Creating the brace took about a week. To put it on before practices or games, athletic trainers first wrapped Michel’s arm with tape or pre-wrap. Then, the brace was slipped on like a cuff, and another layer of tape or pre-wrap was applied over it. The brace was designed with the inside of the forearm open so Michel could still feel the football when carrying it. The end product was stable but lightweight.
On the field, the brace added security without being obtrusive. “It’s very light, very low profile,” said Courson. “I don’t think many people even realize [Sony] has it on, but it allows him to function and do the things he needs to do and be safe at the same time.”
Michel did not feel that the brace impacted his on-field performance at all. “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,” he said. “You know it’s kind of helping me go on, be more confident about my game, [and] go on out there using that arm.”
Wearing the brace, Michel rushed for 840 yards and four touchdowns in the 2016 season. Such a positive outcome from the collaboration with the College of Engineering may pave the way for future partnerships.
“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.”