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How Tech Is Optimizing Return-to-Play Programs in the Premier League



For all the changes competitive sports have undergone over time – from the ever-expanding skills of the athletes to the exploding financial stakes involved at the games’ highest levels – perhaps nothing else compares to the dramatic evolution of athletic injury rehabilitation, as well as the technology used to optimize the return-to-play process.


Physical therapy in sports and athletic performance management continue to progress at an astonishing rate with the advent of tech that enables advanced data collection methods and evidence-based testing. Nowhere has that headway been more obvious than in the English Premier League, where technology is revolutionizing injury prevention and rehabilitation, getting athletes back on the pitch faster – and with better outcomes – than ever before.


ACL Injuries: A Case Study

The biomechanics involved in football, particularly when played at the highest levels, impart extraordinary forces on the bodies of athletes on the pitch. Overuse, high levels of torque and collisions with other bodies are just a few of the potential sources of injury for football players. One of the most significant injuries Premier League athletes are exposed to is damage to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). The importance of preventing these injuries and improving post-event outcomes makes the diagnosis, repair and rehabilitation of the ACL an ideal case study in the recent quantum leap witnessed in physical therapy and performance management.


Although the first ACL reconstruction was performed more than 100 years ago, little was known at the time about the function of the ligament and the fallout from its damage. Additionally, as esteemed orthopedic surgeon Oliver S. Schindler has written, “treatment in those days was largely conservative and surgery was reserved for life threatening conditions as mortality was high.” As surgery options have advanced from anteromedial bundle reconstruction in the 1980s to double bundle reconstruction to prioritizing biological reconstruction and non-surgical bracing treatments, the monitoring and evaluation of rehabilitation outcomes have also improved, thanks to an ongoing data revolution. Yet the incidence of ACL injuries in young people, especially girls and women, continues to skyrocket. Additionally, research has shown a higher rate of lower-body injuries in athletes after a major ACL injury, and experts continue to disagree on a standard return-to-play timeline.


Individual Care Gets an Assist From Technology

Why might certain athletes run a higher risk of a major ACL injury than others? And why is it so difficult to pin down a standard set of protocols and rehabilitation timeline for an ACL injury? The answer to both is likely pretty straightforward: access to appropriate technology.


Setting aside prevention in order to focus for a moment on rehabilitation, experts have found that two of the most important factors in repairing injuries and optimizing return to play are tied to customization for individual athletes:


  • Establishing pre-injury baselines

  • Dynamic rehabilitation monitoring


Intuitively, this makes perfect sense. Some athletes are faster, stronger and more resilient than others. Each individual may be affected in different ways by the same stimuli, including the specific demands of an injury rehabilitation program. Determining individual pre-injury baselines and then carefully observing and matching the demands of a rehab program to an injured athlete based on those baselines is the best formula for an expedient return to play.


The Sportlight system, as well as other cutting-edge technologies, can aid in this process. With a proprietary Rehab System and Peak Demand analysis, Sportlight empowers clubs with the ability to apply novel, dynamic insights to return-to-play programming. Unlike conventional methods, the system incorporates match data, providing coaches and physical therapists with unparalleled benchmarks which help create a better understanding of an athlete’s thresholds at any given time through the rehab process. Practitioners can replicate in-game scenarios during training, helping bring a recovering athlete back up to speed sooner – and more safely – than through traditional drills. Whether it’s needed for an ACL tear or another injury, Sportlight offers unrivaled monitoring accuracy, dynamic data insights and a comprehensive suite of interpretive modules, combining for the most advanced technological system for rehab and return to play.


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