The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

New Wearable Device Detects Achilles Tendon Problems Before They Occur

Posted by on Monday, July 9th, 2018

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Mechanical engineers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have developed promising new technology that can measure the underlying tension forces transferred to the muscles and tendons during movement. Previous studies on animals used surgical implants to monitor force, but the invasiveness has been a major drawback for human trials. The new non-invasive measurement tool builds upon existing knowledge of wave propagation measurements to detect Achilles tendon problems before they occur.

Achilles tendon problems
Promising new technology that can measure the underlying tension forces transferred to the muscles and tendons during movement will be valuable during gait analysis. [Image Source: Unsplash user Bradley Wentzel]

Tendon Research

The researchers described their approach in “Gauging Force By Tapping Tendons,” published in the April 23rd edition of Nature Communications. They explained that movement is generated when the joints pull on the tendon soft tissues that connect muscle to bone.

Current wearable technology allows us to measure our movements, but cannot tap internal information on the muscle forces used to generate that motion. Lead researcher Darryl Thelen and colleagues developed a device that mounts over the Achilles tendon to measure vibration changes during loading and movement. You can think of it as the way tension applied to a guitar string changes its vibration to produce greater frequency or loudness.

Engineers are able to measure the speed of a shear wave traveling along the tendon to interpret the measurement into tensile stress within the tendon. The mechanical device essentially lightly taps the tendon 50 times per second to initiate corresponding waves in the tendon, while two miniature accelerometers assess the speed of travel. Previously undetected phases of passive tendon tensioning can also be detected without the need for internal devices.

They’ve measured the Achilles tendon, the patellar tendon, and the hamstring tendons using this method. The technology has been used to measure people walking as they normally would and also walking with a modified gait that changes the length or speed. The hope is that this system could be used to suggest more effective treatments for patients with musculoskeletal disorders or recovering from injury.

Measuring Achilles Tendon Problems is Valuable to Gait Analysis

“We think the potential of this new technology is high, both from a basic science standpoint and for clinical applications,” said Thelen. “For example, tendon force measures could be used to guide treatments of individuals with gait disorders. It may also be useful to objectively assess when a repaired tendon is sufficiently healed to function normally and allow a person to return to activity. This technical advance can also address many important applications spanning orthopedics, rehabilitation, ergonomics, and sports.”

The new technology is portable and inexpensive, making it a no-brainer for sports medicine doctors to add to their practices once the devices become more widely available.

NYC Gait Analysis & Sports Injury Recovery

This is not to say current gait analysis is a waste of time. In just an hour, our advanced system assesses step length, stride length, cadence, and cycle time, as well as joint angle measurements and the amount of foot pressure expended with each step. The possibilities are vast:

  • In diagnosis, we can confirm or deny a particular gait disorder by taking a closer look at your biomechanics.
  • In therapy, we use gait analysis to decide which muscles require flexibility and strength training.
  • By examining the amount of arch collapse, what part of the foot you use to strike the ground, and which way your foot rolls, we can make customized orthotics or footwear recommendations for you.
  • By assessing the pressure hot spots, we can let you know to which type of injuries you are most prone. Or, if you’re a diabetic, we can let you know where pressure ulcers are likely to form in the hopes that we can prevent them.

The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine offices and gait analysis centers in NYC offer the latest technology in sports medicine pertaining to the foot and ankle. We offer a wide range of services, from acute emergency treatment and chronic pain diagnosis, through non-invasive therapies, rehabilitation, and surgical intervention if necessary. Contact us today.

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If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.