MEDICA MEDICINE + SPORTS CONFERENCE takes a look into the future: What will sports medicine look like in 2030?

Technology will enhance performances – but physicians will still have a key role to play

Picture: Well known fitness expert Mark Verstegen at the MEDICA MEDICINE + SPORTS CONFERENCE 2015


The MEDICA MEDICINE + SPORTS CONFERENCE is an established component within MEDICA in Düsseldorf, which – with 5,000 exhibitors from a good 70 countries – is the world's leading trade fair for the medical sector. The fourth edition of the conference with presentations by top experts will be exploring the future of sports medicine. What will it look like in 2030? Sports physicians along with experts and interested parties from related disciplines will be meeting at this international highlight to take place on Tuesday and Wednesday, 15 and 16 November, alongside MEDICA 2016 (which is to be staged from: 14 – 17 November). At the event, they will, for instance, be discussing new approaches to the monitoring of vital data and performances, how digital innovations in recreational and competitive sports will help prevent injuries and disease, the latest research into training programmes and equipment and how the roles of those involved in the field will be changing.

The two meetings to take place on the first day of the MEDICA MEDICINE + SPORTS CONFERENCE (Tuesday, 15 November) will be focusing on the visionary topic of ‘Body Enhancement’. Progress in this field is so outstanding that people wearing prostheses are being asked in competitions to prove that they are not gaining any unfair advantages from their equipment. That's at least what Markus Rehm, the ‘Prosthesis Athlete’ from Leverkusen, experienced when he wanted to take part in the long jump at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. "He must prove that he is not gaining an unfair advantage from the prosthesis. He has not yet done so," is what Sebastian Coe, President of the International Athletics Federations, is supposed to have said about the ambitions of the 27-year-old Paralympics Champion. But everyday life for people with disabilities looks entirely different. The ‘high-end equipment’ that top performers use is often ill-adapted to people's actual needs. Prof. Dr.-Ing. Robert Riener, Head of the Department of Health Sciences and Technology at the ETH Zürich, will be speaking at the MEDICA MEDICINE + SPORTS CONFERENCE.

He will be introducing ‘Cybathlons’ in his opening presentation. These are challenges where people with disabilities will compete against each other and, with the help of robot-aided assistive technologies, attempt to overcome such everyday obstacles as stairs, ramps, doors and uneven terrain. The ‘pilots’ from 23 countries will be competing in six disciplines. These will include a virtual ‘thought-control’ race, a bicycle race with muscle stimulation, a variety of obstacle courses for people using leg and arm prostheses and races with electronically powered wheelchairs and exoskeletons. The ‘Cybathlon’ is to boost developments in the field of assistive technologies which will hopefully spawn new devices to actually make everyday life easier for people with disabilities.

The rise of gaming technologies

In his presentation titled ‘Sports Orthopaedics 2030’, Dr Christian Schneider, Member of the Medical Commission of Experts at the German Olympic Sports Confederation, President of the Association and National Team Physicians in Germany and Head Physician for Sports Orthopaedics at the Schön Clinic in Munich-Harlaching, will be imagining what everyday life for sports physicians will look like in 2030 and what he expects it to achieve: "An integrated approach for patients that will enable physicians, physiotherapists and / or trainers to collaborate and network with each other very closely across disciplines and that will employ digital innovations in a useful manner." In 2030, it could be possible to put together a variety of different personalised, appropriate, modular and time-saving therapies and training programmes immediately after diagnosis. Dr Schneider thinks that digitisation will provide benefits in several areas. Advanced technologies will certainly help to make diagnoses even more precise: "There will be a lot more information available about how effective our various therapy approaches will probably be and how the illnesses or diseases will progress." It will in future be possible to track therapies and training programmes and it will even be possible to automate some aspects of treatment (the systems will notify patients that exercises are not being properly executed and inform them how to do them correctly) and they could also be adjusted over time without the patient having to attend practices or hospitals. Dr Schneider believes: "It may be useful to deploy gaming technologies here such as the Xbox and the Wii."

‘Human Performance Enhancement’ at the German Air Force

On its second day, Wednesday, 16 November, the conference will be concentrating its attention on innovations and new findings that could be implemented immediately. A few years ago, the ‘Tactical Air Wing 31 Boelcke’ based in Nörvenich switched from their two-seater Tornadoes to the single-pilot Eurofighter. The change has not only exposed the technology to new demands, it also presents entirely new challenges for pilots and aviation medicine. This is something that Captain Daniel Porten, Sports Scientist and Officer for Preventive Training, will be discussing on the morning of Wednesday, 16 November, within the framework of the session that will be focusing on training programmes. Here a team comprising experts from the disciplines of surgery, sports medicine, psychology and physiotherapy is going to train a pilot to enable him to push the Eurofighter to its limits. The subject here is ‘Human Performance Enhancement’.

‘No sports!’ - but sports will do no harm if dosed correctly

Prof. Jürgen Scharhag from Saarbrücken, the Team Physician for the U21 German national football team, will be discussing new information about whether tough endurance training is more harmful to a healthy heart than not. He will be demonstrating that people who participate in competitive sports can expect to live longer. He will be claiming that sports physicians can use ECGs to distinguish between the generally desirable physiological effects of training and unwanted pathological changes. The troponin and B-type natriuretic peptide markers are at mostly only slightly elevated after strenuous training. Heart-rate variability also plays a special role. It reveals, for example, the detrimental effects of stress and burnout. During the same session, Dr Doris Eller-Berndl, who specialises in preventive and occupational medicine, will be explaining the benefits of recording this variable over a 24-hour period.

Wearables as all-round devices

Wearable technologies are playing an increasingly important role in recreational and competitive sports. They provide those engaged in sports activities with continuous feedback about their vitals and performance data. The afternoon session of Wednesday, 16 November, will see Prof. Bjoern Eskofier of the Endowed adidas Professorship for Digital Sports at the Friedrich-Alexander University in Erlangen, present the ‘miLife’ project – a project that intends to become no less than a central and versatile platform for wearables. It will employ body-proximate sensors to collect physiological and bio-mechanical data and transfer it to such wearable devices as smartphones. This data will then be analysed by algorithms, highly developed database technologies and simulation models. The pattern recognition that the use of big data would enable in this way could facilitate training, motivate people to exercise and in the end contribute to sustaining health in older populations.

Sensibly taking up sports again

Prof. Winfried Banzer, Advisory Board Sports Development at the German Olympic Sports Confederation, Dean of the Faculty of Psychology and Sports Sciences, Head of the Department of Sports Medicine, Frankfurt, will be exploring the topic of ‘returning to play’ from a neuro-cognitive point of view. The resumption of sports by professional and amateur athletes and the ‘safe return to exercising’ place great demands on performance diagnostics, screening and the minimisation of the risk of injury. Cognitive performances also play a decisive role in people's successful return to exercise. In his presentation, Banzer will be explaining how they can be measured and trained.

For top training: The ‘training bib’ as a high-tech device

The final session that will be dealing with digital innovations in recreational and competitive sports will be exploring how these innovations may be used in sports with children. Julien Denis of Sports Innovation Technologies will, for example, be exploring how children's training can be made more effective in his discussion of ‘eFUNino’ on Wednesday afternoon. Innovative LED equipment will, among other things, make it possible to quickly switch the play of direction and change team constellations. It could be possible, for instance, to easily swap teams around when every player is wearing an LED bib. The system would generally be designed to increase football flexibility and attention.

The above examples only reflect a selection of the exciting programme that will be available at the MEDICA MEDICINE + SPORTS CONFERENCE. The large number of companies that are partnering the conference is evidence of the interest that such topics generate on the supplier side and of the existing market potential. Partners include: FIRSTBEAT, POLAR, MEDISANA, Medtronic, InBody, Catapult Sports, COSMED and Oxy4. A Guided Innovation Tour to take place on the first day of conference at the MEDICA trade fair will give visitors the opportunity to experience innovations from the fields of ‘Health and Fitness Monitoring’, ‘Med Devices’ and ‘Wearable Technologies’ live and to try them out directly.

Will technology and digitisation make physicians superfluous?

What effect will all this have on the relationship between physicians and patients? "Physicians will not become redundant in future, they will rather continue to play a key role – in the decisions about relevant diagnostics, the commencement of treatments and in prevention." This is how Dr Christian Schneider (Chairman of the Association for National Team Physicians in Germany and Chief Physician for Sports Orthopaedics at the Schön Clinic in Munich-Harlaching) confidently views the future. He is confident that innovations mean progress: "Digitisation provides us with the opportunity to hopefully detect possible problems at an earlier stage and in the end even prevent illnesses and injuries altogether. Prevention is the key word. Digitisation will in future enable us to provide more integrated, networked and personal care to patients. I am looking forward to discussing the innovations that will deliver this progress." The MEDICA MEDICINE + SPORTS CONFERENCE will not be the end of this debate – but it will deliver lots of arguments.

Author reference: Dr Lutz Retzlaff, freelance medical journalist (Neuss)


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