(Caleb Ewald contributed to this blog.)

Super Bowl LIII is right around the corner, and we’ve begun reading the tea leaves and perusing injury reports to divine the future with precision. Will the Pats win another one? Will the Rams start a dynasty? While tea leaves are . . . well . . . tea leaves, the topic of sports injury is a critical area that Forrester sees innovation stemming from over the next decade.

$20 billion dollars — that’s the economic impact of sports-related injuries (calculated from medical costs and lost time) in just US high school and collegiate levels alone.[1] At the professional level, roughly one-third of player salaries are lost due to injury. In 2015, teams in the top four professional soccer (“football” if you’re not in the US or Canada) leagues lost an average of $12.4 million per team due to player injuries.[2] Injury rates and the associated costs are rampant across sports of all levels, especially those in contact sports such as football, hockey, soccer, and wrestling.

Many leagues and individuals have made (and are still) changing rules to prevent and eliminate contact to protect players, but there is a ceiling for their effectiveness, as contact is a fundamental aspect of these games. Too many rules diminish and restrict the integrity and excitement of the games, making contact an inevitable aspect of play. So the billion-dollar question in this day and age: Are there advanced technologies and approaches that help significantly reduce and eliminate injuries?

Moneyball Meets Medicine

There is a cause and effect to injuries. There are predispositions. There are similarities across each type of injury attributable to causes such as overtraining, exhaustion, dehydration, or repetitive trauma. These are now starting to be tracked, measured, and correlated throughout an athlete’s life cycle.

While hardcore data analysis techniques (such as sabermetrics) have been used in sports for some time now, individuals’ measurables (think NFL combine statistics such as height, weight, speed, strength, and explosiveness) and medical history are now being turned into data sets useful for in-depth and sophisticated analysis.

All healthcare stakeholders in this space from athletes, teams, schools, and HCOs should take inventory of the myriad of technologies out there that leverage sports and data science, IoT, and advanced analytics, all of which gives the ability to achieve predictive insight regarding injury risk and prescriptive measures for how to avoid it. Forrester did a quick scan of innovative companies in this space and came across:

  • Kitman Labs. Kitman offers a unique component called the Risk Advisor, which combines machine learning (ML) and multivariate analysis (MV) to quantify injury risk. The solution combines advanced analytics and medical records, in conjunction with the athlete’s measurables and performance data, to continuously monitor, report, and offer individual-level, real-time risk alerts. Such information provides the “why” behind injury risk and the data-driven insights for “how” to control it. Kitman Labs claims it can produce a 41% reduction in days lost to injury, 31% reduction in severe injuries, and a 65% reduction in season-ending injuries.[3]
  • Orreco. A company that blends sports and data science to optimize player performance, recovery, and welfare, Orreco aggregates numerous inputs, including biomarker, GPS, training, sleep, and nutrition data to target key or “at-risk” players. Leveraging deep learning, predictive analytics, and cognitive computing, the platform synthesizes tailored insights to the team, doctors, and athletes, empowering them to make data-driven decisions on training and recovery plans for the individual. Orreco testimonials report reductions of soft-tissue injuries by 50% as well as training days lost to injury and illness reduced by 53%.[4]
  • Sparta Science. Sparta evaluates an athlete’s movement and balance to determine their strengths and weaknesses in a quick 90-second assessment. The data is then fed into a database, crunching out reports and prescriptive training programs tailored to the individual. These are all designed to reduce injury risk while enhancing performance. The goal of the system is to build data and metric-driven training habits that focus on improving weaknesses while building on strengths. Sparta’s solution has assisted professional sports organizations in saving $12.1 million by minimizing injury and reducing insurance costs.[5]

The Impact Goes Beyond Reducing Injury Risk

The solutions provided by companies such as these stand to have a broader cascading impact across the healthcare ecosystem on multiple levels, such as:

  • Decreasing physician burnout. This is the fourth aim in the famous healthcare quadruple aim. With millions of annual emergency department (ED) visits by athletes, there is a significant opportunity to decrease the workload doctors and nurses face in the emergency room. In 2013, there were over 2.8 million ED visits related to sports activities, with sprains reported as the leading cause.[6] Preventing and minimizing these injuries can not only fight the physician burnout that results from overflowing ERs but can also reduce the risk HCOs encounter when required to write off unpaid medical bills that many athletes and their families cannot afford.
  • Reducing medical and insurance costs. The average cost for an adult treated in the ER for soft-tissue injury, such as a sprain, is $2,294. For dislocations among 25–40-year-olds, costs average almost $4,600, with bills ballooning to up to $6,900 for the same injury among 10–19-year-old athletes.[7] These medical bills are financially stressful. Families and schools cannot afford the insurance plans necessary to provide total coverage for athletes. Investments in preventive care technologies can help to bridge the gap in coverage and avoid expensive trips to the ER altogether.[8]
  • Mitigating exposure to costly lawsuits. High-profile, joint lawsuits have flooded headlines in recent years, most notably the concussion lawsuit against the NFL. There are several lawsuits, however, that extend beyond head trauma. Soft-tissue injuries can leave athletes with more than a 50% risk of arthritis a decade later and in debilitating condition for the rest of their lives.[9] If a moral compass isn’t enough to guide your investment, consider the long-term risk exposure of a joint lawsuit from athletes who will be handicapped from potentially preventable injuries.

These technologies have the opportunity to impact population health in a very big way — by extending their reach to help the health-conscious average joes. The sheer volume of data produced from the increasing number of sensors and the growing adoption of wearables in the broader consumer market will help drive powerful insights at the individual level. Remember, data builds on data. And this will shape a future when population health can be vastly improved through proactive and preventive care and wellness management.



[1] Source: Gina Kolata, “Cost of Contact in Sports Is Estimated at Over 600,000 Injuries a Year,” The New York Times, September 29, 2017 (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/29/health/sports-injuries-football-yale.html)

[2] Source: Dr. Kasem Abotel, “The Crippling Cost Of Sports Injuries,” Forbes, August 11, 2015 (https://www.forbes.com/sites/sap/2015/08/11/the-crippling-cost-of-sports-injuries/#465afd924d1f)

[3] Source: Kitman Labs (https://www.kitmanlabs.com/our-system/)

[4] Source: Orreco (https://orreco.com/)

[5] Source: Sparta Science (https://x.spartascience.com/football)

[6] Source: Audrey J. Weiss, Ph.D. and Anne Elixhauser, Ph.D., “Sports-Related Emergency Department Visits and Hospital Inpatient Stays, 2013,” Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project, July 2016 (https://www.hcup-us.ahrq.gov/reports/statbriefs/sb207-Sports-Hospital-Emergency-Department-2013.jsp)

[7] Source: Arpit Misra, “Common Sports Injuries: Incidence And Average Charges,” Office Of The Assistant Secretary For Planning And Evaluation, March 17, 2014 (https://aspe.hhs.gov/report/common-sports-injuries-incidence-and-average-charges)

[8] Source: Tom VanHaaren, “How athletes get insurance and figure out what their bodies are worth,” ESPN, September 7, 2017 (http://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/20592832/how-college-football-players-get-insurance)

[9] Source: Gina Kolata, “Cost of Contact in Sports Is Estimated at Over 600,000 Injuries a Year,” The New York Times, September 29, 2017 (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/29/health/sports-injuries-football-yale.html)

[10] Source: Google Image Result (https://goo.gl/images/2pf5fR)