Professional tennis players could soon be alerted to lower back injury before they feel any pain, thanks to 3D motion tracking technology that can monitor the movement of the spine during a serve.
Sports engineers at Loughborough University have teamed up with the Lawn Tennis Association and Charnwood Dynamics, which develops 3D movement analysis solutions, to capture the service action of a number of high-level tennis players, including Junior Wimbledon finalist Liam Broady, during the Wimbledon qualifiers.
It is thought that a service action with excessively high levels of back extension (bending backwards), lateral flexion (side stretching) and rotation (twisting), combined with high levels of acceleration, could contribute to an athlete's risk of injury.
Ashley Gray, research associate at Loughborough University's Sports Technology Institute, said that 26 sensors are placed on the player's spine, thorax, pelvis, wrist, elbow, shoulder and ankle, to measure key spinal movements at various points during their service stroke.
This data is then processed using software developed by Charnwood Dynamics' trading arm Codamotion, and compared with MRI scans of the player's back to detect the relationship between service action and muscle damage.
As a result of the project, Charnwood Dynamics hopes to provide a tennis-specific test protocol, where players and coaches will receive an immediate report of their 3D movements, highlighting where they are exceeding their normal range of motion.
"We hope this project provides a platform for coaches and scientists to apply the technology in future research that is evidently required in this area, with the ideal to create a blueprint of a safe and effective technique for the younger player," said Gray.
Wimbledon sponsor IBM is also using this year's competition as a testbed for its SecondSight player movement tracking technology, which can track the fastest moving players and how their performance changes, set by set and match by match.
The system can provide new data that could help players, coaches, commentators and fans alike, and add a new dimension to fan's understanding of the science of tennis, according to IBM.