F1 technology used to treat musculoskeletal conditions

Physiotherapists could soon benefit from techniques used in Formula One to more accurately diagnose and treat patients with neuromusculoskeletal conditions.

Former England Rugby physio Don Gatherer and motorsport engineering specialist John Bailey have teamed up to commercialise a system that will provide objective data in areas such as muscle strength, fatigue and peak force.

‘At the moment, physiotherapists tend to treat patients very subjectively,’ explained Bailey. ‘They get a feel for the patients’ strengths and weaknesses and, based on that, decide how to treat their conditions − it’s not the best way of doing it.’

Developed under the Gatherer Partnership, the system makes use of loadcell arrangements typically used to measure forces on F1 cars. Specific forces are applied to the patient and the loadcells measure the muscle response to provide exact data on strength and help tailor a rehabilitation programme.

Bailey said that the biggest challenge was in developing the software. ‘That’s been a huge task. It’s a complete analysis package where we had to collect a data from many people by gender, age, size, etc, which will be invaluable to the medical profession generally.’

As well as the sports and medical industries, Bailey believes that the tool could be used in areas such as defence, insurance and leisure. ‘The system is literally a pain detector test and one where the human body is not capable of cheating,’ he said. ‘It could be a valuable tool to determine whether a physical injury claim is legitimate.’

The Gatherer Partnership was formed in March with the aim of launching the system on the market, at a cost of around £6,000, by November this year. The company is currently working with Edinburgh University to conduct further tests on the system.