In sports like tennis, hand and wrist injuries are common that can prevent an athlete from competing. In most cases, the pain begins as mild and slowly worsens over weeks and months. There is usually no specific injury associated with the start of symptoms.
Now, researchers at the University of Tsukuba have developed a portable MRI system that enables athletes to be screened for injuries before they exhibit any symptoms. The prototype device is intended to serve as a portable, quicker, more practical, and less expensive alternative to sending athletes to hospitals.
The research team has improved upon their previous device – developed by Tsukuba and colleagues to spot baseball-related elbow injuries – and specifically developed a system to diagnose wrist injuries. Their improvements include an effective shielding method for obtaining high-quality images and an outlet-free power system, so there is no need for a commercial power supply.
In the test of the technology, researchers employed their portable MRI system at a tennis school, where they imaged the wrists of male and female tennis players aged 8-18 years old. Among the athletes screened, several were found to have cartilage damage, even though some of these athletes had no other symptoms of injuries. To demonstrate clinical feasibility, image quality was assessed by a radiologist, and clinical evaluations were performed.
Thus, this device can provide an early screening tool that is convenient for athletes and can help to prevent further injury or damage. Also, it eliminates the need for players to go to a hospital for diagnosis.
“As future work, further devices can be developed for other joints, such as the ankle or knee,” says Professor Yasuhiko Terada.
Owing to its convenience, this newly developed device may lead to the development of similar systems for preventing and treating injuries among athletes in all types of sports.