Sports clinic’s 3D gait-analysis machine takes guesswork out of treating injuries

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A new machine at Winnipeg's premier sports medicine clinic aims to make "no pain, no gain," a slogan of the past.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/12/2015 (2470 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A new machine at Winnipeg’s premier sports medicine clinic aims to make “no pain, no gain,” a slogan of the past.

The Pan Am Clinic is one of just 20 clinics and 48 locations around the world — and the only one in Manitoba — with a $25,000 3D Gait Analysis System.

It’s not uncommon for major universities to have a biomechanics lab that can do 3D motion measurements, according to Reed Ferber, who invented the system.

The 3D model of Flett's gait can be used to asses her biomechanics.

“Almost 11 years ago now, we wanted to know, how do you translate that scientific analysis into a clinic setting to improve health care?” says Ferber, a kinesiology professor and director of the Running Injury Clinic at the University of Calgary.

So, what does the system do? The process is rather simple. As a patient walks or runs on a treadmill, six cameras create a 3D model that is used to assess biomechanics in the patient’s hips, knees and ankles.

The information is entered into a database that has biomechanics measurements from 5,000 healthy subjects to find similar running and walking movements.

“It’s enormous,” Ferber says, referring to the volume of information. “All of the data from around the world — Brazil, New Zealand, England, Spain, Canada and the United States — flows into a central database right here at the University of Calgary.”

Pan Am Clinic physiotherapist Kim Senechal has been working with the Gait Analysis System since September.

“(I’m) very excited about it,” the ultra-marathon competitor says. “It does take some of the bias out of the equation.

“We think we might be seeing something, but this confirms yes or no. I think runners can feel confident about the recommendations we are making.”

The process requires two visits. The first, detailed above, takes about an hour. The second visit is a review and planning session. A physiotherapist will share the findings, make recommendations and, if required, develop a treatment plan.

The system’s effectiveness is proven, based on peer-reviewed, published research, which suggests 90 per cent of patients who use the unit and follow the subsequent plan are pain-free within six weeks.

“We’re taking the guesswork out of it,” Ferber says. “We’re not relying on a physiotherapist’s opinion anymore. We compare the motion to everyone in the database in order to provide a context to the data so you can make informed decisions on what’s the root context of the injury and how to proceed from there.”

Senechal says taking the guesswork about a runner’s gait out of the equation isn’t a slight to her ability as a therapist. To the contrary, it provides a concrete basis for her recommendations.

“We’re always trying to do evidence-based practice, and the more we have, the more solid our recommendations are,” she says. “There are so many things you can’t see with the naked eye. The error rate is quite high between visuals and Ferber’s system. We’re correlating what we see with the gait system with what we see with our eyes. My confidence is high in my recommendations.”

Wayne Glowacki / Winnipeg Free Press Sarah Flett, a 3D Gait Analysis technician/kinesiologist at the PanAm Clinic, has her lower-body movements recorded by the machine while running on a treadmill.

The cost for a 90 per cent chance at being pain free is $250.

“I spend $180 on running shoes without blinking,” Senechal says.

Manitoba Health doesn’t cover the cost, but some private insurers may.

Meanwhile, Ferber says he’s working on the next generation of technology for the system.

“We have partitioned the database so that if a female runner comes into the Pan Am Clinic, she will be compared to other female runners in the database. And the same with a male,” he says. “In the new year, we will be partitioning it further so we can compare recreational runners to competitive runners and whether your toes touch the ground first or your heel touches the ground first.

“The more we partition the database, the more we are able to make apples-to-apples comparisons for each patient.

“We are hoping that soon we will be able to predict injury in someone who has no pain or symptoms.”

scott.billeck@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Monday, December 28, 2015 7:55 AM CST: Photos changed.

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