BalanceTutor, a revolutionary physiotherapy product intended for a wide range of conditions, is being used to help players on Spain's Real Sociedad soccer team improve their balance and their dexterity in unexpected situations.
BalanceTutor is a rehabilitation system that uses a patented 4D treadmill, numerous power and movement sensors, and optional motivational video games.
"Effective neuromuscular coordination of the body following an unexpected slip or stumble is a fundamental element of sport performance and sport injury prevention," says Dr. Avraham Cohen, Clinical Director at Meditouch, “and this ability can be damaged due to sport injuries such as an ankle strain, ACL rupture or muscle damage. The system invented and designed at BGU trains this important ability by simulating unexpected perturbations in a safe environment while standing and walking."
The brainchild of two professors at BGU, the FDA and CE-certified robotic device was originally developed and built at BGU to measure the balancing capabilities of seniors, to train them to prevent falls and to rehabilitate them after injurious falls. The product was licensed to Meditouch in 2014.
BalanceTutor was invented and developed by Prof. Itshak Melzer, head of the Recanati School for Community Health Professions at BGU and director of the Schwartz Movement Analysis & Rehabilitation Laboratory, and Prof. Amir Shapiro, director of the Robotics Laboratory in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at BGU in an interdisciplinary effort.
“Traditional rehabilitation is based on self-initiated 'proactive' training," says Prof. Melzer. “Our robotic device trains the reactive responses, such as the corrective injury-preventing reflex-like responses to a slip or other conditions that unexpectedly displace the balance and equilibrium; with the emphasis being on unexpected."
When Prof. Melzer came to the Robotics Laboratory at BGU to look for a partner, he ran into Prof. Shapiro who turned out to have a personal interest in the topic: at the age of 31, Prof. Shapiro slipped in his garden and suffered a broken spine. “I have four screws and a metal plate connecting my head to my body as befitting a professor of robotics," he jokes.
“Anyone - seniors, people with neurological conditions (such as stroke survivors, Parkinson's and MS patients), vestibular challenges and even athletes - can benefit from balance training that simulates an unexpected loss of balance," he adds.
“Initially we licensed the invention to improve the health and well-being of seniors," says Mr. Zafrir Levi, VP Business Development at BGN Technologies, the BGU technology company. “One in three people over 65 sustains a major fall and 20% of these turn into a permanent injury - a major medical and financial burden that BalanceTutor can help prevent and alleviate."
“Yet once the product was commercialized new opportunities opened up including sports - as often happens when academic research reaches the market," adds Mr. Levi.
The Real Sociedad trainers and therapists are using BalanceTutor to rehabilitate soccer players and expose them to unexpected perturbations at the final stages of rehabilitation. Every season, the club bears the economic burden of 900 cumulative days of sick leave per team due to injuries.
According to Prof. Melzer, many balance training programs for athletes appear to ignore the basic principles of physical training and exercise physiology. “BalanceTutor helps strengthen the players' specific muscles that are related to balance reflexes in areas such as the knee, hip and ankle joints, thus reducing injuries and sick time."