Thermal Imaging and Gymnastics Injuries: A Means of Screening and Identification

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Gymnasts have a relatively high injury rate and severity with highly qualified gymnasts suffering the most. One of the common injuries in gymnastics is the overuse-type that often remains latent until near the decisive moments of competition when the injury rises to the level of incapacitation. Is there a technology and methodology available to monitor gymnasts during development that can identify latent injuries and thus alert medical personnel to potential performance-limiting problems at the earliest possible time? Imaging consists of the use of a thermal camera to identify inflamed areas and asymmetric temperature patterns. Thermal asymmetries are determined via thermal image and pain is assessed with palpation, history, and subject identification. Video recordings are made of the involved areas and recorded electronically for transfer to physicians, physical therapists, and athletic trainers for further investigation and remediation. This is an ongoing descriptive study of the use of thermal imaging on inflammation and injury in gymnasts. Thermal differentiation of tissue areas is performed by visual inspection and bilateral comparison of the thermal images. Thermal images show bilateral and tissue area thermal differentials by differences in gray scale. This information discriminates injuries, inflammation, and other conditions without invasive procedures. The ability to identify and thus treat injuries while they are minor is a significant improvement over waiting until the injuries become increasingly symptomatic and performance-limiting. Thermal imaging has become a mainstay of our laboratory in assisting young athletes in remaining injury free, making return-to-activity decisions, and collaborating with medical personnel to identify, prevent and treat injuries and other conditions.