04. Wellness

Preventing Sports Injuries with NeuroTracker

June 13, 2019

Injuries are the most feared threat to any athlete’s performance. In today’s relentless and high-stakes professional sports they are also becoming remarkably common. In the last season of the English Premier League, close to $300M was spent just on salaries for players either injured or recovering from surgery. For most people, preventing injuries is not something that comes to mind naturally with cognitive training. However, there are several potentially helpful advantages that neurotechnologies like NeuroTracker have to offer. Here we will look at some of the different ways that this cognitive training and assessment tool can help prevent athletes getting injured on the field.

Awareness on the Field

The effects of training with NeuroTracker expand awareness as well as conditions athletes to maintain awareness under pressure, allowing them to identify threats sooner. This is key in avoiding lapses in attention that leave sports men and women vulnerable to impact-based injuries. Along with this comes an increased level of situational awareness – a critical factor in making more accurate decisions in averting risks.

This can even include predicting tactical situations before they happen. For example, one sports science study showed that 3 hours of distributed NeuroTracker training almost halved the amount of decision-making pass errors for soccer players under the pressure of competitive play. The explanation for such a change is a superior level of awareness of how play opportunities will unfold, allowing strategic predictions of teammates’ and opponents’ movement patterns.

Reading Opponents

Involving similar cognitive abilities, but in a more specific way, NeuroTracker research has shown that training also improves Biological Motion Perception – the ability to read body languages cue to predict a person’s actions.

This skill involves reading and interpreting many body cues simultaneously – such as head rotation, angle of footing, or hip orientation. When put together efficiently, sports science research explains that this skill is pivotal in defining the performance advantages that elite athletes have over their lesser counterparts.

As you can imagine, in almost any team sport, predicting a tackle before it happens provides an excellent defense for avoiding potentially harmful collisions, keeping players one step ahead of the game.

Return-to-Play Timing

Sports related concussions (SRC) are a classic example of the ongoing difficulty associated with being realistically fit to return to play or action. It is well established that concussions greatly increase the risk of future concussions or related injuries. Certainly, when it comes to sports, an athlete’s primary defence on the field is in-between their ears. But with recovery from any kind of serious injury or illness, game rust is known to be a serious challenge at the professional level. Perhaps an athlete is physically fit to return to play, however, mentally they can really struggle to keep up when they have been out of competition for months at a time.

Putting a player back into the heat of the action before they are cognitively ready, significantly increases the risk of them getting re-injured. And in a surprising amount of cases, this ends up putting them right back to square one or worse, with the injury they just recovered from. As sports leagues like the English Premier League are renown for the ever-quickening pace at which competitive matches are evolving, it is becoming increasingly important to be in tip-top form both mentally and physically.

In this light, NeuroTracker training is an active way to build up mental abilities that are most critical to maintaining safety under pressure. It is also an ideal form of training for injured athletes who are unable to train physically, allowing them to keep their mental game-shape razor sharp, regardless of how long they are absent from a team’s line up. An added advantage is that with comparison to normative baselines, an individual’s readiness to perform can be measured, providing a safety net to reduce the risk of engaging in activities that are not yet cognitively equipped to deal with. Many professional teams use this approach to choose optimal timing when to get the pros back into training, and then when to return to the sports stadium.

Boosting Processing Speed

Many impact-based injuries are sustained when there is only a small window of opportunity to react. NeuroTracker training effectively speeds up the mental processes critical to action-response time, with improved measures of processing speed demonstrated in multiple peer reviewed studies.  In fact, qEEG studies show that NeuroTracker training positively increases brainwave speed, boosting the frequency cycles at which neurons fire to relay information throughout the brain.

In effect this is speeding up the rate at which the brain operates, and neuroscientists have evaluated the effects of this increased rate of neuron firing to be similar to taking pharmaceutical drugs like Ritalin. The good news is that there aren’t any of the associated side effects, and the benefits are sustained much longer, even without continued training.

With heightened alertness and mental sharpness, NeuroTracker offers a method for reducing the risk of injuries in high speed action by speeding up the time it takes to be aware of what is happening in the moment, allowing the athlete to react faster.

Cognitive Stamina

Physical fatigue creates injury risks in two ways. Firstly, the muscles and tendons that support joints become weakened and stretched, impairing movement and increasing the susceptibility to tears and even fractured or broken bones. Secondly, and probably more importantly, fatigue taxes the brain by overloading it with internal sensory noise – whenever you are in any kind of pain, it’s basically more difficult to focus on anything.

Sports science research with NeuroTracker has found that this form of training actually builds-up cognitive resilience to physical fatigue. It was found that elite rugby players, already trained-up on NeuroTracker, could maintain almost all of their mental focus even when pushed into a state of exhaustion. In contrast, their equally exhausted but untrained teammates, experienced major drops in their ability to maintain their concentration. This shows that the right kind of training can provide a great buffer against the type of fatigue induced injuries that occur in the later stages of competition.

However mental fatigue itself may also pose a threat when it comes to injury risk. Whether it’s the Super Bowl or the Stanley Cup, high-profile tournaments come with an inevitable roller coaster of emotions, anticipations and psychological pressure – all things which can take their toll on mental game-shape.

Studies show that NeuroTracker training boosts standardized measures of sustained attention – a mental resource for maintaining concentration and focus over time.  And similar to a marathon runner building up endurance by running much shorter distances repeatedly over time, just bite-size chunks of regular NeuroTracker training can increase cognitive stamina. In this sense, mental preparation is just as important as doing cardio work to be able to maintain performance levels when fatigued.

Predicting Self-Injury Risk

This may sound surprising, but actually many common sports injuries are self-inflicted due to poor motor mechanics. This can just be bad motor-skill habits that have been learnt over time, just like lifting with your back! However new neuroscience research suggests that demands on our mental focus can also change how accurately and efficiently we move.

As we covered in a previous blog, the demands of NeuroTracker while performing jumping sequences, revealed that certain athletes were at a much higher risk of ACL injury amidst the mental demands of competition.

A follow-up study will see if a cognitive training program will reduce risks for athletes who are particularly susceptible to cognitive related injuries.

Beyond Sports

Injuries are undoubtedly the number one bane of professional sports careers. However, neuroscience is showing that the chances of getting hurt during performance is likely as much to do with brain fitness, as it is to do with physical fitness. As a practical example being used by top athletes today, NeuroTracker offers a robust method of reducing injury risks by increasing the mental abilities that are needed to keep athletes competing day-in, day-out.

Though we’ve focused only on athletes here, the benefits certainly go beyond sports. For example, the biggest single health threat in aging is having a slip, trip or fall. Independent research shows that cognitive training to improve awareness and attention can significantly decrease the occurrences of such injuries, and NeuroTracker is a tool extremely well suited to address this need. Another example is driving safety, with NeuroTracker levels being shown to be predictive of accident risk – with higher scores driving safety across several types of behavior increases.

The main takeaway is that the cognitive dimension of human performance is central to injury prevention, and neuroscience is providing solutions we can all use. If you’d like to read more, then also check out this blog.

The Cognitive Element of Sports Injuries

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