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June 7, 2011
COLUMBUS, Ohio – It takes great talent and intense training to become a professional athlete. Major League Baseball pitchers or players in the National Basketball Association don’t want years of effort or bright futures lost to an injury, especially if it could have been predicted and prevented.
Sports medicine researchers at the Ohio State University Medical Center agree and are leading an effort to develop a first-of-its-kind device that measures an athlete’s core stability and strength – the control of muscles in the body’s trunk and hips – while the athlete is in an active, upright position. If current results continue, the device could hold great promise beyond professional athletes and clinical practice.
“We like to call this device ‘Perfect Practice’ because it helps users maintain the best posture while they practice, ensuring the proper core stability training needed to enhance performance and prevent injury,” explains Ajit Chaudhari, co-director of the OSU Sports Medicine Movement Analysis & Performance Program and an assistant professor of orthopedics.
Chaudhari and OSU Sports Medicine physical therapist Chris McKenzie are developing the device in collaboration with a University-wide, multidisciplinary team.
According to McKenzie, core stability and strength are directly related to performance, with baseball pitchers providing a good example. A stable base at the core enhances the ability to move and generate power in the arms and legs. “More than 55 percent of the velocity of a pitch is powered from the hips down,” says McKenzie, a physical therapy team leader, who has worked with professional baseball, basketball, football and Olympic athletes. “The idea for Perfect Practice was born from a need for measuring and training the core musculature in a functional, or upright position.”
While standard measurements, such as the number of sit-ups a person can do in one minute, provide an indication of core muscle strength and endurance, they do not necessarily correlate to the athlete’s ability to control the positions of the trunk and pelvis over the legs, which are needed when engaged in an athletic activity.
To use the device, an athlete straps on the belt with its core stability monitor and performs exercises related to his or her sports activity. When core stability is not maintained and the body goes out of alignment, the device provides audible feedback to alert the user.
“This device is the first and only self-contained clinical tool available to measure and train core stability in a functional position. It allows the user to receive pertinent biofeedback of the trunk’s position in space, alerting the athlete to potential deficits that can lead to injury, pain and dysfunction,” says McKenzie.
Through initial testing, McKenzie and Chaudhari have shown that improved core stability, as measured with the device, can help predict a pitcher’s success, as seen in fewer walks and hits per inning pitched and more total innings pitched during the season. The study has been accepted for publication by The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
The OSU Sports Medicine team is now studying the device’s ability to help predict injuries, and to prevent them through better training practices. During the pitching motion, improper trunk and pelvis alignment may result in excess stress placed on muscles and joints, which can result in injury to the trunk, shoulder and arm. Research underway involves athletes with the Kansas City Royals, Cleveland Indians, Tampa Bay Rays and Pittsburgh Pirates.
Chaudhari says the device is patent-pending and, with a recent $50,000 TechGenesis grant from TechColumbus, researchers are in the process of developing new prototypes and investigating potential avenues for commercialization of the device.
While Perfect Practice has been developed with a focus on baseball pitchers, McKenzie and Chaudhari agree that it has potential beyond professional athletics and even clinical practice. From active amateurs on the golf course to sedentary office workers, from post-surgery rehab programs to exercise classes, the device could help all individuals learn to strengthen and control core muscles, resulting in fewer injuries and better results.
“If these results continue, Perfect Practice could serve as an additional tool for therapy clinics, training rooms, gyms, and even at home to provide the real-time feedback to help predict and prevent injuries, while improving performance,” says McKenzie.