Jun 8, 2017
What’s That Sound?

Knee injuries are one of the most common ailments in all levels of athletics. According to an article from CTV Calgary News, once this joint is damaged, the chances of it happening again increase greatly. But what if there was a way to help prevent re-injury, or even prevent the injury from happening in the first place?

With a healthy joint, there is constant communication between an athlete’s nerves and brain, maintaining balance and helping to prevent injury. After an injury, the nerve impulses become weaker and can no longer reach the brain, so athletes continue to push themselves, often resulting in re-injury. Payam Zandiyeh, PhD, a Post Doctoral Fellow at the University of Calgary, is conducting a research study in the hopes of creating a solution to this cycle.

To carry out this research, athletes both with and without previous knee injuries are given a band to place over their knee. Inside the band are small transmitters that use noise to stimulate the athlete’s nerves, boost their signal, and give them the strength to reach the brain when corrections need to be made in stability.

“[The transmitters help] to improve your sensation around your knee joint so that your central nervous system is aware of where your joints are and then can intervene as quickly as possible to avoid injury,” said Dr. Zandiyeh. “Noise is added to the signal that was reaching a nerve so the level of the signal is above the threshold.”

While the noise added to the signal helps it pass to the brain, it is not strong enough for the wearer to notice. Any changes made thanks to the signal are done subconsciously.

“It’s [undetectable] really at a very sort of superficial level,” volleyball player Adrienne Kline, who tore her ACL during a game, said in a video for CTV News. “So it’s something that’s very much background noise and doesn’t really interfere. I don’t feel like I’m wearing anything.”

So far, the results have been positive. For both those with injuries and those without, the transmitters significantly improved feeling in the knee. This improvement will hopefully help athletes right themselves before re-injury or give them enough of a boost to stop an injury from occurring in the first place. The technology could also improve athletes’ health in the long-term as, according to the video from CTV News, over 70 percent of people who have had an ACL injury will eventually develop osteoarthritis.

In the future, Dr. Zandiyeh would like to see a knee brace developed using the same transmitters as this initial study. Doing this would allow athletes to wear the transmitters full time, hopefully decreasing injury risk.

“I hope that if they are going into high-contact sports such as skiing, playing hockey, playing rugby, playing soccer, playing football, you name it, they can wear knee sleeves equipped with these vibration stimulators and hopefully their chance of injury will be reduced,” said Dr. Zandiyeh.

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