Utilizing Sparta Science for athlete monitoring: pain

Introduction

In the sports performance world, the ability to provide objective metrics to monitor an athlete is crucial for the health of an individual and the success of the team. Time is the limiting factor, especially when juggling hundreds of athletes as many high schools and university staff do. The goal of objective athlete monitoring is to mitigate the risk of injury, pain, or reduced performance by taking a proactive approach.

Challenge

In an athletic setting, use objective data to monitor athletes to proactively address potential injury risks and/or performance limiters.

Solution

Assessment Strategy - A basketball team utilizing the Sparta Jump scan to monitor assessed consistently in-season every other week (See: How often should we assess?). Through consistent utilizing of the Sparta assessments, both the staff and the athletes had a clear understanding of each player’s neuromuscular solution to movement by creating a baseline through a series of data points. Establishing the norm of each player’s movement is important in order to identify significant changes when a player alters their strategy for better or worse


Below are some of the key indicators to look for when understanding how fatigue/pain affects the results of the Jump Scan. (See: How does fatigue affect the assessments?)

  • A decrease in jump height - an overall decrease in jump height along with a decrease in Load, Explode, and Drive shows an overall decrease in mechanical output and may be an indicator of fatigue.
  • An overall change in Movement Signature - A change in the relationship of Movement Signature variables can detect altered movement strategy and maybe an indicator of fatigue or pain. This can often occur without any significant decrease in Jump Height.
    • This is best understood as a change in an individual's highest and/or lowest variables when compared to baseline.
  • A decrease in Drive may be an indicator of acute fatigue.
  • A simultaneous decrease in Load and increase in Drive may be an indicator of fatigue


Intervention Strategy - During biweekly assessments, the staff identified a player with large changes in all three force variables (Load, Explode, and Drive) from his baseline data off of the athlete’s Jump Scan. The Sparta system highlights these changes making it simple for coaches and practitioners to identify when changes in data are outside of the normal or expected change (See: How does Sparta identify meaningful change?).

This athlete’s Movement Signature completely changed from his baseline and flipped to high load, medium explode, low drive (see below). It is also interesting to note that though we do see a drastic change in the force strategy utilized when jumping but jump height shows no significant change from baseline or his previous assessment.

 

Later the staff was able to connect and have a conversation with the athlete to discover that while he felt typical in-season fatigue and soreness, he was also experiencing bilateral knee pain. To combat the issues at hand, the staff implemented a plan to keep him on the court but also allow him to recover and address his acute knee pain. They managed practice time, implemented recovery tactics, and prioritized isometric loading during training sessions.

 

Key Learning Points for Practitioners:
  1. As an athlete with a baseline Movement Signature of lower Load & Explode with higher Drive, his typical strategy is to rely on momentum and larger ranges of motion in movement.
  2. After the scan change (higher Load & Explode with lower Drive), his movement strategy was altered (!) to a reliance instead on a shorter range of motion and quicker movement. This often occurs as a protective mechanism to avoid pain/soreness by avoiding the range of motion for specific joints.
  3. Alterations in movement strategy occurred while the output of jump height was the same as past scans. Athletes are master compensators and will often find unique strategies to achieve the same outcome. Utilizing the Movement Signature alongside jump height allows for movement strategy/quality to be objectively monitored as well.

 

Benefit

Utilizing frequent objective assessment allows for sports organizations to take a proactive approach in monitoring the health and readiness of their athletes. In this use case, by identifying the change in movement strategy, and proactively managing his pain and symptoms this athlete was able to continue full participation. The following week pain had subsided and his Movement Signature returned to his expected baseline relationship. This player was able to complete the season without any major time-off from pain or injury.

 

Results

This proactive approach to the utilization of the Sparta Science technology enabled this team to keep their best athletes on the court resulting in a Championship season, their first in 6 years.

In sporting organizations, there is a strong correlation between keeping the best athletes available to compete and winning games. The ultimate goal of any sporting organization is to win, and in turn, the goal of the human performance staff should be to keep the best players available for the coaching staff to select. Utilizing technology can enable the performance staff to take a proactive approach in monitoring athlete health and welfare which not only will allow for better team performance but can help to limit injuries that can be extremely costly to organizations because of both player salaries and medical expenses.