Elite-level athletes are continually seeking new technologies, therapies, and strategies to perform at the highest level while remaining healthy and safe over the rigors of training camp and season. Teams at all levels use wearable sensors to non-invasively measure biomechanical and physiological parameters pertinent to the athlete, such as movement patterns (distance, velocity, and acceleration), heart rate, heart rate variability, and respiratory rate. Authors of this paper recently studied a National Football League (NFL) team over a two-year period and demonstrated that the use of specific wearable devices coupled with the necessary analytics has been shown to alleviate soft-tissue injuries (e.g. hamstring pulls, groin strains).
In this paper, our research team asked the following question: “Can the emergence of epidermal electronics to measure biomarkers from saliva and eccrine sweat be applied in an efficient and accurate manner towards assessing the overall health and well-being of the athlete?” Current work by various research teams around the world have demonstrated the viability of epidermal sensors to monitor such biomarkers in a controlled clinical setting; however, the translation to the sports field remains extremely limited. Towards that end, our paper focused on evaluating commercial sweat and stress sensors and those presented in scientific literature to provide a broad overview on how this technology could be pertinent towards assessing human performance. The potential of wearables can only be realized when a team integrating the fields of engineering, data science, and sports medicine explores predictive analytics applied to translating biomarker data into actionable protocols to create value for the athlete, athletic trainer, or team physician in an accurate and efficient manner. Our findings from this research can be distilled to our “top-five” greatest needs (both from an engineering and clinical front) to successfully assess the physiological and biochemical profile of the athlete to ultimately reduce injury burden.
1) Applicable to Athletes: Fabricating devices which athletes can wear at specific locations on the body is imperative regardless of how accurate the device is.
2) Monitoring of Lactate Levels: Plasma lactate concentrations closely approximate those of sweat lactate and provide an indication of body exertion and exercise intensity. Currently, there lacks a viable sensor to measure lactate levels in a continuous and unobtrusive manner.
3) Monitoring of Sodium Levels: The total Na+ loss from sweat is a function of whole-body (WB) sweating rate and sweat Na+ concentration ([Na+]); thus, quantifying Na+ loss from sweat is vital in expediting player recovery and minimizing soft tissue injuries brought about by the onset of dehydration.
4) Translating Data to Appropriate Visualization Platform for Athletes: Current sensor systems such as the Zephyr BioHarness translate and segregate workload data into colors to enable coaches to gauge the workload and fatigue of players in a timely and efficient manner. Translation of such physiological and biochemical data into visualization strategies currently utilized by teams today would greatly enhance the value wearable sensors could provide in monitoring the health and wellness of the athlete.
5) Leveraging Prior Data to Inform Clinical Decision Making: Data acquired from wearable sensors can be inputted into supervised models to predict athlete performance, likelihood of suffering a non-contact injury, inform hydration status to alleviate soft-tissue injuries, or accurately diagnose cardiac arrhythmias.