Sports Stef Harley talks about sports injuries and the role of biomechanics
Stef Harley’s verdict on hamstring injuries is somewhat chilling for it instantly brings to mind one Indian fast bowler. “Once a player has a hamstring injury and the injury recurs – you probably know examples in Indian cricket – it’s almost guaranteed that he’s not going to play at the same level anymore,” he says. “I would have expected shoulder or back injuries but I was first amazed to learn that hamstring injuries are a huge problem in cricket. But when I watched more of it, I realised that it’s in the nature of cricket – when from a standing, waiting position you have a fast acceleration, you are at risk of injuring your hamstring quickly.”
Harley is a physiotherapist and a Senior Consultant with TMG-BMC, a biomechanics company based out of Slovenia that analyses elite athletes and provides analysis of risk of injury. TMG-BMC’s clients have included the football clubs FC Barcelona, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, the Italian national football team, and the British athletics team.
“For all the knowledge, technology, trainers and sports science that we have in football, very simple injuries continue to plague the sport,” he says. “If you look at the statistics of non-impact injuries, 28 per cent of hamstring strains will re-injure in the same season. Imagine how much a player like Lionel Messi costs his club and imagine if he is injured. This is something that can be easily avoided. This is where we have tried to close the gap.”
What TMG-BMC does is, simply put, measure muscle function with a device called the TMG100 and express that quantity as a number. This technology, called tenziomyography, helps monitor contraction properties of individual muscles. All the athlete has to do is rest while sensors attached to the body collect data. “If a muscle doesn’t respond to stimulus the way it’s supposed to, we are able to tell the trainer that this individual is at higher risk of injury. We are also able to identify muscles that are underperforming and advice the training staff and the athlete,” says Harley.
A native of Belgium, Harley is in India at the invitation of Fit and Spa Solutions, who plan to use the TMG100 in the country, targeting cricket primarily.
“During a season, we will be able to say: Player X is not responding as well as the others, so take a closer look because maybe there is a risk of injury. We can then say what to do for recovery and how fast he is recovering.” At tournaments, coaches and teams use this information to help decide which players need to be rested and when.
“There were two important instances when teams ignored our information and players were injured,” Harley states. “But I can’t tell you where or who but they were absolutely crucial.”
TMG-BMC has been around for almost a decade, but the technology — though not yet mainstream — has grown commercially only in the last three years. Where only European football may have been on the cutting edge in these areas in the past, cricket, now being big business, is also increasingly at the forefront. “This is simple technology that doesn’t cost that much – we’re talking not 100,000 Euros but maybe 10,000 Euros,” Harley says. “The margin between teams at the elite level is very little; so this is what helps. Also, I understand players are paid a lot in Twenty20 cricket. If you select a player for a lot of money, would you not want to know before you sign the contract and before he starts playing if his hamstrings are in perfect symmetry?”