Force plate technology helps athletes and orthopedic patients alike

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

It’s unlikely that Isaac Newton ever imagined how his third law of motion would be applied in modern-day athletic training. It’s now integral in force plate technology from VALD Performance, which is used at OrthoKansas and LMH Health Therapy Services — the only location in the region offering this technology for everyday athletes and orthopedic patients.

Force plates are used in testing and training to help people achieve their performance goals while avoiding injury. They use sensors to detect differences in forces exerted onto the ground that therapists may not be able to see with the naked eye.

“Our team can look at a patient’s body weight squat, especially for those who have issues offloading — or not bearing weight — on their extremities,” said Danny Larson, a physical therapist at the LMH Health West Campus. “This technology allows us to get objective feedback to inform our rehabilitation plan. The feedback shows the therapist what a patient needs to work on and how to target their training.”

Benefits for rehab and training

Athletes using the VALD force plates at OrthoKansas benefit from understanding how well they’re loading weight on their extremities following an injury or surgery. Larson said research demonstrates that people unconsciously offload or favor a limb after injury for extended periods of time, even after they feel like recovery is complete.

“The problem with this unconscious offloading is that it has the potential to increase the risk of re-injury, causing you to spend more time off the field or court,” he said. “Knowing how you’re loading your limbs helps to guide your training program so you’re doing the best things possible to get you back on the field and keep you there.”

Patients can also use the plate technology to see a live feed of how they’re loading their extremities. This helps the patient and therapist ensure they’re performing quality reps during training, allowing them to make the most of their time and effort.

It’s not just athletes who benefit from use of the force plates. Dr. Luis Salazar, a sports medicine physician at OrthoKansas, said that many patients with lower-extremity injuries can benefit from this technology.

“Force plates are a great tool to assess discrepancies between loading, jumping, force development and symmetry between the left and right sides of the body,” he said. “I’ve referred a number of patients to our sports physical therapy providers and incorporated the technology into their rehab.”

Salazar emphasized that getting feedback from the plates only takes a few minutes and doesn’t increase the length of an individual therapy appointment.

“Patients who use the force plates are able to get immediate feedback, awareness and understanding about their progress,” he said. “It helps us provide an accurate timeline for their recovery.”

Knee replacement patients reap the benefits

A study currently being conducted by OrthoKansas and the physical therapists at the West Campus is looking at the loading patterns (or amount of weight placed on each side of the body) over time for patients undergoing knee replacement, both pre- and post-surgery.

“The force plates can really benefit knee replacement patients by helping them understand how they’re loading their new knee over time. If they place a higher load on either knee, it may play a role in accelerating pain and arthritis in other joints,” Larson said. “The results from their testing help to design training programs to facilitate appropriate loading and weight distribution of their legs.”

The study has currently collected data from about 75 patients and plans to reassess their progress at regular intervals.

“With nearly 400 total knee replacements completed last year by the three primary joint replacement surgeons at OrthoKansas, the opportunity to increase the number of participants can really help provide a stronger analysis of the data. In turn, this will help identify common trends that our patients exhibit following total knee replacements, helping to optimize their outcomes,” Larson said.

Cutting-edge technology

Incorporating technology into patient rehab isn’t new to the LMH Health physical therapists. Therapists at the West Campus have access to lots of technology to help provide feedback on strength, stability and gait.

LMH Health has an isokinetic testing machine, one of only a few in the state of Kansas. The machine provides an objective measure of joint function following injury or surgery, both for upper and lower extremities.

“Isokinetic testing allows us to assess movement, strength and stability discrepancies,” Salazar said. “This technology allows us to know what level our patients are at and what needs further attention, allowing us to personalize their training and rehab exercises.”

Even with cutting-edge technology, Salazar said the most important part of recovery is communication.

“It’s vital that the patient communicate with their physical therapist to understand what their treatment plan entails,” he said. “We want you to be actively involved so you’re on your feet and safely return to your pre-injury performance as soon as possible.”

— Autumn Bishop is the marketing communications manager at LMH Health, which is a major sponsor of the Journal-World’s Health section.


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