A New Way to Think About Sports Injuries?

In a recent essay about NFL injuries for our “Football Freakonomics” series on NFL.com, I concluded:

If I were an NFL owner, GM, or coach, I’d set aside a little pot of money to try to answer some of these questions empirically. There is a lot of advantage to be gained by keeping even a few more players per season off the injured reserve list — to say nothing of the fact that it’s the right thing to do.

This prompted an interesting e-mail from Ryan Comeau:

Dynamic Athletics is a biomechanics company focused on athletes and people recovering from orthopedic injuries. Our technology has been in development for 8 years but we’ve only had our doors open for 7 months now. We process 3D motion-capture files in a way that deliver the full palate of kinematic & kinetic data (without force plates). This immense amount of data collected about an athlete’s ability to move & how exactly they produce their movement, if managed properly, becomes a valuable time capsule for the athlete or those managing a team.

A team could go back and retroactively build a new report, let’s say about a player’s neck, from an old data set and track exactly where that player is in comparison to his healthy baseline. In terms of accuracy, we can deliver posterior & anterior translation + rotation about a player’s knee–one recovering from an ACL–that’s sub-millimeter. No other company has this capability either.

Furthermore, if a player–let’s say a baseball pitcher–experiences extremely high joint torque about his elbow during one of his off-speed pitches, Dynamic Athletics will be able to identify it. From there the player has to work with coaches & strength coaches to withstand that high force production or mechanically alter the motion. We also test & correlate fatigue to biomechanical data, working to define accurate pitch counts for individual throwers.

I am not equipped to assess how worthwhile this is but it certainly sounds as if it’s thinking in the right direction.


I could have sworn that I read that many sports teams do this type of analysis already. For example, I think it's known that Dwyane Wade's body mechanics make him susceptible to certain leg injuries.


I can say from a decent career in baseball, this type of analysis will be (and certainly would have been) great for owners, coaches, and more importantly players. It takes a combination of natural talent, work ethic, timing, and luck to attain the mental and physical strength to play any sport at the professional level. The area of most uncertainty, at least in the players mind, is how long he/she will hold up. Plenty of factors weigh in on this, but if a player is able to "confirm" the strength in specific physical attributes, say the arm motion of a pitcher, while also understanding the weaknesses that will pose a problem in future years without taking action, this type of science, if used effectively, will almost certainly change each sport forever.

Of course their are potential risks/downsides to this as well, such as creating reports on players in high school and college using such data would inevitably change drafting. The one certain thing we all know is how uncertain the future is. Data could easily be misinterpreted, be lacking in integrity, or potentially manipulated to cause a player to drop in drafts when they should be higher or push someone up that should be lower. Then trades and free agents become all the more difficult to price... just consider the CBA implications. I'm just naming things I can think of if this catches on in the coming years. There are so many positives and negatives - bottom line, I'm all for it, but I just hope the evolution of this practice is used for the good of the sports.



There's nothing unfair about saying if a guy has bad form, he increases his injury liklihood, or his college recruitment/draft position change due to injury: this already happens all the time and is not unfair anyhow.

Conversely, this tool could show players who are likely to injure themselves in the future (regardless of subjective perception of "form") at a point before they have been injured (HS, College, beyond) and a chance to correct rather than suffer an otherwise inevitable injury.


When I spoke of the negative affects, I didn't mean that it's unfair to use the data to determine draft position, bad form, etc. I was speaking to the likely hood of this data being manipulated, skewed, or misinterpreted. With the amount of data that will be available, the chance for error or manipulation is very high. Along with those negatives, is this data public or owned by the company who provided the analysis? All sorts of legal issues could arise.

Again, I'm all for it. I'm simply providing thoughts on the other side that should be considered as this type of analysis evolves. Above, DC states this is already being done... yes, but only for some athletes. There are millions of potential players in all sports out there who will be subject to this in the coming years. It will be quite interesting how this changes owners/GM's/coaches ideas on building teams. Baseball has been and will continue to change due to Bill James' analysis which was really implemented with Billy Bean. This just may have a similar affect on all types of sports as it progresses.



sounds like an elevator speech.


These are some pretty bold claims. I would like to see some data that shows that this company can PREDICT injury from their data. Or how they could say that a given pitcher with a given biomechanic approach to pitching will last for a certain number of years.

It is somewhat possible to predict forces about a joint with 3D analysis, but really force plates are needed, and not possible on a field. And one person's shoulder anatomy or ACL or knee architecture may be different than the next person's. That is partially why people have different ways of accomplishing the same task--say, pitching a baseball.