3-D imaging helps sports teams avoid injury

Sports teams are looking beyond entertainment and embracing 3-D video technology to help players train and play better as well as recover from injuries faster.

Teams are working with 3-D technology to capture human gestures with sensors for biomechanical and orthopedic research. The work is being used to discover the most powerful and least damaging ways that a human body can swing a bat, hit a ball or run fast.

The use of 3-D imaging creates a picture on a computer screen that can be viewed from any direction and in any dimension. Limb angles, accelerations and stress on joints can then be studied in comparison to ball speeds and the g-forces behind them.

This motion-capture technology has become a recognized tool for helping athletes recover from injuries, Chris Bregler, an associate professor of computer science and director of the Movement Lab at New York University, told The New York Times. “It’s just a matter of time before it goes into not just sports medicine but making a team better,” he said.

The Boston Red Sox, the San Francisco Giants and the Milwaukee Brewers are baseball teams using the technology to record players, several sources told the Times. The Green Bay Packers football team has tested a system, while a motion-capture laboratory was recently built on the campus of the New England Patriots in Foxborough, MA.

The Motion Capture lab at Foxborough is part of the Massachusetts General Hospital Sports Performance Center, located in a health clinic next to the Patriots’ football stadium. Dr. Eric Berkson, an orthopedic surgeon and team doctor for the Red Sox, is in charge of the lab. He would not discuss his work for the Red Sox with the newspaper; however, he did allow reporters to see a young college pitcher who went through his routine workout, throwing fastballs, changeups, curveballs and a dipping split-finger pitch. He had about 75 small white globes on his body with a ring of 20 high-speed cameras above capturing images of the reflective globes with an infrared strobe.

The globes appeared on a video screen, and a computer program connected the dots, creating a biomechanical 3-D twin of the pitcher on-screen. It provided enough detail to calculate the stress on the pitcher’s wrist and the angular velocity of his shoulders, the newspaper reported.

Trainers and team doctors are struggling with how to use and interpret the huge amount of information being obtained from the use of 3-D technology, but the goal is to anticipate an injury before it occurs.

Rick Peterson, pitching coach for the Milwaukee Brewers, compared the new technology to getting an M.R.I. of a pitching delivery. “You see everything that’s going on, how efficient the kinetic chain is,” Peterson told the newspaper. Peterson is also a co-founder of 3P Sports, a company that analyzes amateur pitchers’ motions through video.