Sports injuries can deeply affect athletes’ lives at any age or skill level. According to the US National Safety Council, children between the ages of 5 to 14 accounted for 50 percent of American football injuries, 45 percent of soccer/football injuries, 44 percent of baseball injuries and 40 percent of lacrosse and rugby injuries treated in emergency rooms in 2017. During the 2018 pre-season and regular season of the US National Football League (NFL), players suffered from 57 ACL tears and 132 MCL tears.
Sparta Science, an artificial intelligence startup based in Silicon Valley, wants to prevent this. Founded in 2016, the company uses validated scientific assessments and evidence-based, data-driven systems to decrease injuries and optimise performance.
“We’re trying to instill good habits that go beyond strength training,” Founder and CEO Dr Phil Wagner told Front Office Sports in 2019. “It is a big difference-maker when technology can help you be more resilient… [and assigns] the right programme that can both improve performance and reduce injury at the same time.”
The startup’s equipment and software solution tests users’ ability to move, helping them to identify potential areas of muscle overload, predict possible injuries in the future, increase resilience and improve rehabilitation. By using a “force plate,” the company can determine an athlete’s degree of movement. After jumping on the device, the force plate measures patterns based on how much force is put into the ground, and in what directions, helping users to predict and minimise injuries.
“The hardware we’ve used has been around for decades,” Wagner told TechCrunch. “What we’ve been able to provide is the speed and accuracy of the data. Gathering hundreds of thousands of standardised trials, different ages, injuries, genders, ethnicities… It’s really the data science that’s allowed us to provide something unique.”
As a child, Dr Wagner grew up playing sports but had to deal with injuries and limitations on the field. He started his career as a strength and conditioning coach at the University of California—Los Angeles and the California Institute of Technology before heading overseas to work as a rugby coach in New Zealand and Australia.
After realising that his knowledge was limited to treating injuries instead of preventing them, he decided to attend medical school at the University of Southern California, graduating with a medical degree with a focus on biomechanics.
“I went to medical school to better understand the human body and learn evidence-based research in order to effectively apply that back into injury prevention,” he explained.
The company’s platform is used by professional, collegiate, high school and youth sports organisations; strength training professionals, medical personnel and military forces. Now, the NFL has partnered with Sparta Science to prevent player injuries.
“Movement is the most important thing we do because it either causes every [injury] we have, whether it’s a hamstring or ACL or even diabetes, or it’s a result of things you have,” Wagner told CNBC. “Any time you have good data and more of it, you’re able to start identifying where the [injury] trends are.”
Robert Scott Lazar