Portable Digital Radiography: Tackling Today’s Sports Injury Epidemic


The COVID-19 lockdown wreaked havoc on professional athletes, and now we are witnessing the fallout. But thankfully, when injuries do happen, professional teams have a way to quickly diagnose, treat and manage them. It all starts with the right diagnostic imaging.

There’s a new epidemic out there and it’s a pesky problem on every professional athletic field, court and course: Sports injuries.

After months of relative inactivity during the COVID-19 pandemic, professional athletes are finding their bodies are being tested more than before. With gyms and even parks closed for everyone, resuming competitive sports after a lockdown is taking an unexpected toll on pro athletes—with sports injuries on the rise in virtually every league.

Consider America’s favorite pastime, baseball. Recently, while fans were singing “take me out to the ballgame,” athletes were literally being taken out of the ballgame! 

One study from Major League Baseball found that in the abbreviated 2020 season, the overall injury incidence rate per 1000 athlete-exposures was almost twice the rate compared with the two seasons—2018 and 2019—before COVID-19.

Professional football didn’t fare much better. According to a recent study, the rate of injury in NFL players during weeks 1-4 of the 2020-2021 regular seasons was significantly higher than during three recent past NFL preseasons and regular seasons.

And, for the 2020-2021 season, professional hoops may as well have been known as professional hurts. Numerous NBA stars have missed playoff games this past spring with a variety of impeding injuries. There were 2,909 games lost to soft-tissue injuries, according to certified athletic trainer Jeff Stotts, who maintains the most authoritative public injury-tracking database that covers the NBA. It's the second-highest figure recorded since tracking began in 2005-06.

Simply put, COVID-19 lockdown has wreaked havoc on professional athletes. It’s a problem of athletes doing too much, too soon. Unlike an extended “off season” when pros continue to work out and train, the pandemic lockdown limited training—or nixed it altogether. 

Now that athletes are back on the playing fields, we are witnessing the fallout. But thankfully, when injuries do happen, professional teams have a way to quickly diagnose, treat and manage them. It all starts with the right diagnostic imaging.

First Line of Defense, Crucial Equipment

From coaches to catcher’s mitts, every professional team understands the value of choosing the best personnel and equipment. It all plays a fundamental role in building a winning team. 

That same philosophy extends to how pro leagues take care of their athletes. While they may not be on the field, radiologists and X-ray techs have long been an essential part of a sports team’s medical team. Now, with the uptick in injuries due to COVID lockdown and lack of practice, medical teams have become more critical than ever. 

What’s more, imaging equipment really matters—it’s truly a team’s first line of defense in getting immediate and accurate diagnoses of injuries. 

The right technology can help diagnose an athlete quickly and get the right treatment promptly started. Most professional sports teams have traditional full size mobile imaging systems at their training facilities as well as at the stadium for ready access to X-rays on demand in the locker room.

In recent years, access to imaging has become even more convenient for teams. Today, new innovations in digital radiography (DR) allow the X-ray professionals associated with a team to take the equipment even more places— reaching injured players on the field. 

It’s all because today’s portables are smaller, lighter weight and have longer lasting battery power. For example, Fujifilm’s FDR AQRO is a mini-sized portable with an unprecedented 12-hour battery life. Its compact size, lightweight and versatility make it a great option for remote uses. Add to that the fact that it is affordably priced, so a team can have multiple units if needed. Its image quality is excellent for an ultra-low powered, low dose system due to the combination of Fujifilm’s high sensitivity detectors and advanced image processing. 

For higher demands, power and budgets, the more common choice is the full size FDR Go PLUS which provides x-ray room image quality for every possible view and every size player, with 4 hour battery power.

The benefits of portable DR are many. For example, the injured athlete need not be moved because the equipment comes to them—helping prevent added pain and possible complications from being moved prior to understanding the scope of the injury. Moreover, the ability to obtain high quality images on-site during game time means a speedier diagnosis so the best possible treatment plan can begin immediately.

Presently, Fujifilm works with professional sports teams that use FDR Go PLUS mobile systems along with FDR D-EVO II detectors to provide immediate diagnostic images on injuries. 

Because of the lack of a gradual return to sports, less practice before the season, and overzealous practice schedules, teams are encountering more and more injuries.

Some of the common injuries athletes are experiencing at this time include sprains, fracture, dislocations, shin splints, ACL tears, groin pulls, hamstring strains, and knee, shoulder and elbow injuries.

Figuring out the precise nature of the injury begins with diagnostic imaging. Simply put, portable but powerful DR equipment on the field, court and course is making a decisive impact in the rapid assessment of a wide variety of professional sports injuries. 

Immediate Care, Speeding Recovery 

Hopefully, we’ve all learned a lot from the COVID-19 pandemic, medically and otherwise. It has shined a spotlight on so much—and sports medicine is yet another area illuminated by this pandemic. Clearly, the isolation and inability to train and practice has led to greater numbers of sports injuries. 

Now more than ever, there is a real need for professional teams to include the latest advances in portable DR as critical gear for their medical staff in treating player’s injuries on the field and the court.

NFL season is starting now and NBA in October. In the NBA, the average number of players sidelined per game due to injury, non-COVID-19 illness or the need for rest this last season was 5.1—the highest since the 2009-2010. NFL injuries were up 16% over the first half of the 2020 season. In tennis, we have just seen several players drop out of Wimbledon 2021 due to everything from ankle to abdominal injuries, and this past July, a number of Olympians saw their dreams dashed due to injuries that arose after being sidelined from practice during COVID-19. 

State-of-the-art portable imaging equipment is the first line of defense to address this new epidemic of sports injuries. The sooner injuries are diagnosed, the sooner effective treatment can begin and to help speed recovery. That’s a winning game plan for every team. 

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Nina Kottler, MD, MS
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