With any sport, the potential for injury looms in the background, with nervous murmurs of torn ACLs, sprained ankles and strained hamstrings littering locker rooms. However, the face of physical rehabilitation is completely transforming through the development of patient-centric, virtual technology that can increase access to care while significantly minimizing the need for student athletes to go to their therapist’s offices, which are often off-site and inconvenient.
Instead, student athletes are able to take control of their own rehabilitation by undergoing physical therapy in-dorm or in campus-adjacent housing, digitally. This innovation also benefits physical therapists as it allows them to manage more patients daily (both in-office and remotely) without the common increase in overhead that comes with any business growth.
This cutting-edge technology is especially powerful in that it provides student athletes the opportunity to tackle rehabilitation more conveniently, as sustained injuries can result in the loss of much-needed scholarships and the crushed dreams of going pro. Since motivation to engage with practitioners can lag due to inaccessibility or lack of mobility, digital physical rehabilitation is opening doors to a new world of care – and possibly future careers.
No guts, no glory... but a lot of overexertion
Sports are taxing, and the stats associated with injury might be higher than you think. In recent data collected by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) on 1,113 of its member schools, researchers found that over a five-year period in 25 college sports, student athletes suffered 1,053,370 injuries in approximately 176.7 million athlete-exposures.
Furthermore, Division 1 (D1) teams are supposed to practice at a maximum of 20 hours a week (including travel); however, a 2008 NCAA survey of 21,000 athletes concluded that many are putting hours well over 20, with football players devoting over 44 hours a week, and women softball players logging over 37 hours a week. With such prevalence in overexertion, the need for a convenient form of care is more essential than ever.
Four years guaranteed? Think again
Despite how a letter of intent from a college recruiter is interpreted by student athletes and their families, the NCAA rules stipulate that schools may award only one-year scholarships to students, which can come as a surprise to recipients. There is no provision that forbids a coach from revoking a scholarship the year after a student athlete becomes injured and, unfortunately, a number of student athletes have lost their scholarships due to these rules. Thus, injured student athletes need to get well soon and successfully, and for today’s busy student who may not have the ability to head off-site for appointments with doctors, more efficient means of care are essential to better safeguard collegiate futures.
Hearing it straight from the source
Naturally, in addition to the time they dedicate to sports, student athletes must spend a significant amount of time on their studies. This often means holing up in the library, in their dorms or in a common area to work. With a great deal of confinement to on-campus areas, the motivation to visit a physical therapist can prove to be quite a challenge.
With this in mind, several of today’s current student athletes were asked if having the option to go through physical rehabilitation on their own time and on- campus would make a difference. The feedback was telling:
“Yes, it would help tremendously,” said Kassandra Akouri, a freshman at Long Island University Post, attending the university on a volleyball scholarship.
“I would be more willing to do therapy if I didn't have to walk to a training room,” said Jose Morales, a freshman at Princeton, attending the university on a basketball scholarship. “My dorm is far from the training room.”
Mariah McPartland, a sophomore at East Tennessee State University on a volleyball scholarship, said: “Yes. It would save time and money.”
Your roommate’s got nothing on your “assistant”
Convenience is the name of the game through the use of home-based digital rehabilitation, a patient- centered technology that is changing the landscape of sports injury care for today’s student athletes. When built with a deep understanding of a patient’s journey through the entire care pathway, digital rehabilitation “assistants” can provide early education and expectation setting, helpful reminders, detailed risk assessments, animated and interactive instructions, detailed measurement and responsive feedback, capabilities that guide patients through their own rehabilitation experience – all in the comfort of their own dorm or campus-adjacent housing.
Home-based digital rehabilitation does more than just provide patients with an on-demand digital companion for their rehabilitation journey – it also provides clinicians with a smart window into the recovery of their patients in real-time, proving more effective care through the use of virtual clinical tools. This ability opens the door to an enhanced understanding of what works, what doesn’t work and what’s needed for optimal recovery for patients.
Dreams shining brighter than ever
While injuries will continue to be an unavoidable part of college sports, the way in which student athletes approach those injuries makes all the difference. Through the convenience of home-based digital rehabilitation, not to mention the real-time capabilities and insight it provides the clinicians responsible for their care, student athletes will benefit from a fresh sense of motivation to take charge of their own health, orient themselves firmly on the path towards improvement and continue their work to retain hard-earned scholarships. On the court, field, track and beyond, student athletes can feel strength in continuing to live their dreams: I have the power to make this work. The future is in the palm of my hand.