New research from Delaware State University’s kinesiology lab may help athletes predict their risk for ankle injury by looking not only at how well they can balance, but also how they use their muscles while balancing.
This information and the technology that tests it could result in profitable partnerships with shoe companies, the development of an app, and deals with the NFL or individual sports teams, according to Von Homer, one of the lead researchers.
Combining two tests
It is well known that poor balance inhibits sports performance and increases risk for injury. DSU’s research dives deeper into why compromised balance can cause injuries.
To determine that, Chris Mason, chair of DSU’s Department of Public and Allied Health Sciences, and Von Homer analyzed the ankles of more than 300 athletes. They evaluated balance along with neurological control and efficiency of muscles by using both a Y-balance test and an electromyography (EMG) test.
During a Y-balance test, an athlete stands on one foot on a device shaped like a Y and uses the other foot to push a box along tracks to the left, right and in front of him or her. These movements resemble action during gameplay and allow researchers to gauge balance and see bigger issues. It takes about 15 minutes.
An EMG test uses sensors attached to the ankle and lower leg to track electrical activity of muscles, which is one way to measure which muscles are used during a movement.
The DSU test uses both at the same time. The combination is trademarked as the “Homer Technique.”
The light-bulb moment
Homer once was a student athlete who was injured in college and needed a device to walk properly. He didn’t go into details about the injury, but said the device was cumbersome.
His goal in his research is to keep people functioning, and also to help provide those who are injured with better devices, he said.
He thinks he can do that by understanding what makes bodies “break” and developing low-profile solutions to mitigate — rather than fix — injury.
Before moving to DSU, Homer was on the Barry University faculty in Miami, Florida, where he worked with MatMarket, a shoe textile company, to validate the benefits of an orthotic shoe insert.
When Homer came to DSU to get a second doctorate, this time in neuroscience, he and Mason became interested in exactly what those orthotics were doing to help athletes avoid injuries.
Their research showed that some athletes had poor balance not because they were weak, but because they weren’t using some of their muscles well. That could be because of poor technique in a sport or because an injured athlete continues to try to compensate for an injury even though the ankle had healed.
Instead of focusing on strengthening all of the muscles around a joint, trainers can use the information gathered with the Homer Technique to pinpoint which muscles are not being used well and then train an athlete to use them more effectively.
That kind of training leads to specific stabilization instead of generalized strengthening, Mason said.
Homer predicts that his technique could be used to predict high-risk injuries, assess footwear technologies, evaluate individuals for health insurance companies and inform athletic personnel decisions.
DSU also is developing an app that would let users assess themselves.