More than 46.5 million children participate in sports each year in the United States alone, and school and recreational sports club teams are becoming more popular. Because of this, we’re seeing today’s athletes getting younger. But this is also leading to more injuries in children. According to the Center for Disease Control, more than 2.6 million children aged 19 and under are seen in emergency departments for injuries related to sports and recreation each year. With the substantial cardiovascular and musculoskeletal benefits of participating in sports, reducing orthopedic injury risks is a key goal for the Motion and Sports Performance Lab at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford, which is working hard to find new ways to evaluate and improve each athlete’s unique set of factors.

The Motion and Sports Performance Lab opened in August 2016 and focuses on three distinct areas: injury prevention, objective return to sports, and sports performance and enhancement. “There are high-skilled orthopedic surgeons at Stanford, but my job is to keep all these kids away from them as much as I possibly can,” says Michael Orendurff, PhD, Director of the Motion and Sports Performance Lab.

The Motion Sports and Performance Lab tries to “prehab” kids, a form of strength training that aims to prevent injuries before they actually happen. The lab works with 11 athletic trainers that travel out in the field and meet with athletes, coaches, parents and schools to train kids and teach them ways to help prevent injury, specifically ACL risk, which Dr. Orendurff says is one of their main areas of focus. “We have baseline data from their pre-participation exam and can follow their progress with multiple assessments of their athletic performance,” says Dr. Orendurff.

“Our athletic trainers identify individuals who may benefit from an evaluation in the Motion and Sports Performance Lab and the lab can use the data that we produce with patients to help recommend the appropriate intervention, whether it’s surgery, rehab or time off,” continues Dr. Orendurff. Whether athletes are trying to prevent injury or are going through rehab after an injury has already occurred, the lab will prescribe specific training protocols, interval work, weight lifting, or plyometrics to teach the athletes how to do the work and then try to implement that with their coach or parent.

Trusted mocap technology

Helping Dr. Orendurff and his team combat youth injuries is the very same technology that brings animation to life – motion capture. Vicon technology offers the very best quality data measurement and outstanding motion capture analysis that the Motion and Sports Performance Lab needs to evaluate and recommend appropriate intervention for young athletes.

The investment at the lab is Dr. Orendurff’s seventh Vicon system. “I know all the different motion capture systems that are out there,” he says. “Having worked with so many of them, it’s the ease of use, accuracy, and the process throughput that drove me toward the Vicon system once again. I know the software well, and it’s constantly improving and changing for the better.” 

The lab invested in a 20-camera Vicon system with 16 and 5 megapixel Vantage optical cameras, and two Vue video cameras. With a space 55 feet long and 40 feet wide, the Motion and Sports Performance Lab’s volume space is one of the largest Michael’s worked with. “It’s a big space,” he says. “To put that into perspective, I can get five or six strides on each side as someone runs through the volume – it’s great! We have two Bertec and three AMTI Optima force plates, and they were set up easily and work seamlessly with the Vicon system.”

Vicon Vantage has been intelligently designed to work cohesively with each of its components to provide real-time information to the system operator. Crucially, it continuously monitors its performance with a host of new sensors giving the user visual feedback through the on-board camera display both in the software and on Vicon’s Control app. “I especially like the ‘bump’ feature – letting me know if a camera has been hit during an athletic maneuver – it saves the data we might have lost otherwise.”

Vicon Vue enables seamless calibration between optical and video volumes, ensuring the optical and video views are perfectly aligned to capture the finest of details, something that Michael’s lab needs with the types of evaluations they perform on athletes. Vicon Vue is the industry’s first full high definition synchronized video camera, providing clear and precise video footage in the mocap volume.

Benefits of industry-standard technology

Having been in the industry for more than 25 years, Michael has worked with Vicon technology since 1992. He has run four different labs and has encountered various challenges with each of them, one being the size of the space. Not having enough space or having cameras positioned in ways that aren’t conducive to what’s needed to be captured makes it difficult to collect all the appropriate data.

“There’s a lot of trunk flexion in the movements the athletes perform in the lab,” explains Dr. Orendurff.  “For example, we’ll have people do sprint starts or cutting, and when you lean forward doing those movements, the cameras that are positioned high around the room prevent you from seeing the pelvic or chest markers or the front of the body.” The large space at the Motion Sports and Performance Lab has allowed Dr. Orendurff to place Vicon cameras six inches off the floor. Having the cameras positioned this way helps the team capture the trunk and pelvic markers in the flexed position, enabling them to capture more precise lower extremity movements during testing and evaluations.

Youth athletes to adults

The lab has also been working with wearable sensors in the field, putting sensors on athletes to determine how hard they’re training, what they’re doing, if they’re over training, and what their problems are. “We have a group, the Young Athletes Academy, which is a group of kids from different schools and club sports teams from around the Bay Area,” explains Orendurff. “We have about 16,000 kids who play various sports in the academy. We provide free pre-participation exams for them and look for weaknesses like musculoskeletal, cardiovascular and cardiopulmonary issues. We basically want to make sure that no one is going to have a catastrophic injury.”

But it’s not just kids that benefit from the lab. One of the first patients the lab saw was actually an adult. “We had a pediatrician who usually is the one who sends kids to the lab come in because he had some knee problems,” explains Orendurff. “It was good – he came in to experience first-hand what his patients will go through when he refers them to the lab.”

Support that goes the distance

The initial experience to get the Motion and Sports Performance Lab up and running didn’t go as smoothly as hoped, but once Vicon entered the picture, all of the puzzle pieces began to fit into place. “Getting the Vicon system and our lab set up went fantastic,” Orendurff says. “I have to say, my standards are pretty high, and it’s still really fantastic. Vicon came out and did the install after they rushed the order due to previous unforeseen complications.”

Vicon staff were on-hand at the lab for two days to help Michael with the install. On the first day, they started working with the cameras, using the Control app to quickly aim and calibrate them. “By the time the second day came, we were already collecting data and working on marker placement,” Orendurff explains. “I’ve never had an install go that smoothly. It was a far cry from my previous experience with another motion capture company. Vicon are always there helping us refine our workflow. They’re instantaneously responsive to everything that we want and need from them. We collected our first patient – a VIP from Stanford – on the third day we had the Vicon system. It was flawless and everyone was extremely impressed.”

Youth athletes in good hands

Vicon technology is essential to the lab to consistently deliver the quality data capture required to help youth athletes prevent major injury and improve their performance. “I’m amazed how many overuse injuries I see in young children that I would normally see in people in their 20s or 30s,” says Dr. Orendurff. “Sports are great, but rest is really important for athletes’ bodies, and that kind of intervention is really the focus of what we’re doing at the lab. Now we have the data to convince athletes, parents, physicians and coaches, and it’s really helping to keep kids healthy and active.”