Live Motion Capture Helps Athletes

January 10, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
The equipment that helps action hero's jump from tall buildings and dodge disaster in your favorite movies is now being used to help athletes. The high-tech system shows players how to make subtle adjustments to their technique -- keeping them off the bench and on the field.

Working out is now more specialized for baseball player, Jimmy Gerlach. Surgery from an injury left him out of the game for months. "I went back to throw another pitch and my arm just started ripping from when I started my motion, and then I couldn't stop it, and from there it just tore all the way through."

To prevent Jimmy from suffering another injury, researchers at this bio-mechanical lab put reflectors on his body to track his every move.

The red lights are high speed cameras. When he pitches, they work with 3-D tracking computers to pick up subtle motions the human eye can't see.

Dr. Ajit Shaudhari, Director of Biomechanical Research at The Ohio State University, said "When we record it, we can watch it really slowly, examine little parts again and again. The pitching coach could just watch him throw, but it's hard to see everything. You don't have the right angle to see things necessarily. You can't slow it down, so we get all of that from this type of 3-D analysis."

They concentrate on Jimmy's elbow when he throws -- the lower it is, the more chance for injury.

Chris McKenzie, a physical therapist from Columbus, Ohio, said, "By actually increasing his arm slot and by looking at that mechanically here in the lab, we actually can make sure that the arm is staying high, taking stress out of the shoulder and elbow itself."

Gerlach said, "It's a big help 'cause you can see it on the computer."

Knowing what to change will help his arm -- and career last longer. The technology can also help runners, soccer players and golfers. Besides athletes, researchers want to use this equipment to help patients with injuries function better -- for example, to find out why some people who have knee replacements can climb stairs while others cannot.

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