Paraplegic athletes push their bodies to the absolute limit — and sometimes beyond. When an athlete injures a body part he or she can't feel, that can lead to some very dangerous situations. Now, a design team at Imperial College London has an ingenious solution: an athletic suit that uses off-the-shelf pressure sensing film to show where serious impacts have occurred.
The team's "bruise trousers" pair athletic Lycra pants with a pressure-sensing film originally intended to measure the gap between rollers in factory machinery and the like. The greater the pressure, the more intense the colour. It's a pairing so perfectly sensible, it makes you wonder why nobody thought of it before.
It's hard to overstate the importance of this development. Sure, it's nice for smaller bumps, the kind of black-and-blues that a wheelchair athlete might not see until the end of the day. But for an athlete who can't feel pain below a certain point, even a vicious injury could go unnoticed. And that can sometimes be fatal, as Paralympic alpine skier Talan Skeels-Piggins tells Wired UK:
One hazard of being a high level paraplegic is Autonomic Dysreflexia (AD), which is essentially the inability to control a rise in blood pressure which will eventually — if left unchecked — result in death. One cause of AD is pain to the body initiated by severe injury. An injured paraplegic might not be aware of the severity of an injury and therefore ignore it. This could lead to AD and the complications resulting from lack of immediate care. The suit would highlight a possible fracture site, thereby allowing the individual to go to hospital for medical treatment and preventing the onset of AD.
The injury-sensing suit is still in prototype phase, with the hopes that additional testing and refining could lead to mass production and incorporation into standard athletic apparel. When that happens, it will be a boon for all types of sports, helping to hone our understanding of which injuries should sideline an athlete for further examination. But it will be an especially big blessing for Paralympians and the world of differently-abled athletes who push their bodies to the pinnacle of performance. [Imperial College London via Wired UK]