Avatars helping athletes

When most people think of an avatar, movies and video games come to mind. But now, avatars are helping athletes play better than ever before.

Jake Murray, 19, has always dreamed of playing in the big leagues, but elbow pain threw him a curveball.

But 3D biomechanical imaging is now helping Murray develop a specialized training program to help him pitch without pain.

"It gives us an ability to look at forces and torques, and position of the body," said Donna Moxley Scarborough, a clinical and research director at the Mass General Orthopaedics Sports Performance Center.

Each set of reflective markers placed on Murray creates accurate measures of speed and force across the joints of the body.

Twenty motion capture cameras track the position of each marker, creating a 3D avatar. The avatar is then synchronized with two high-speed video cameras to provide an ultimate view of the athlete.

"If we pan around this side, okay, notice how there is a little inflection there?" said John Birtwell, head of baseball at Mass General.

The 3D imaging lines up the real-time action from all angles at the same time.

"We noticed that he had some limitations in muscle length and some strength issues," said Scarborough.

Murray has changed some of his pitching mechanics as well as his workout program. Now he is back in the game and ready to compete at the next level.

Researchers are also using this technology to help golfers get a stroke up.


REPORT: MB # 3685

BACKGROUND: To a baseball player, their elbow is an essential part of their performance in a game. If a pitcher is struggling with elbow pain, it can be detrimental to their baseball career. Pain in the elbow is primarily caused by constant overhand throwing, which overuses the muscles and tendons in the elbow. Repeated movements in the elbow can increase an athlete's chance of injury. In the case of an elbow injury, the athlete will notice a pain on the inside of the elbow due to the perpetual force being implemented on the tendons. (Source:

CAUSE AND SYMPTOMS: Elbow pain is typically found in athletes, more specifically baseball players. Pitchers are usually the first to notice symptoms, but other players may notice early signs as well. High stress on the elbow is the cause, but the pain and uncomfortable feeling will subside once the pitcher has stopped throwing. If a baseball pitcher has thrown pitches for an entire inning, game, day, week, month, etc. the player will notice a consistent pain once he/she throws a ball. Once alerted, the player should take note of the pain and resist throwing overhand until rest has occurred. It has also been noted that pitchers who are taller and weigh more throw a greater velocity and run a better risk of injury. (Source: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00644)

TREATMENT: Depending on the severity of the injury, the patient can opt to undergo surgical or non-surgical treatment. Rest, anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy and change of position are all options that may help the elbow recover. However, if the solutions above do not aid in recovery, a patient may have to seek surgical treatment. If a patient is choosing to continue to throw overhand, then surgery may be their best decision. The type of injury in the elbow will determine the best fit surgery for the patient by the doctor. (Source:

NEW TECHNOLOGY: Massachusetts General Sports Performance Center has introduced avatar technology to mimic the movement of a person. The new facility showcases technology that takes a 3-D image of a baseball pitcher and presents the image in a full-size motion that can be seen from any angle. This is beneficial to baseball pitchers due to the clear demonstration of what can be done to fix pitching issues. This new development can potentially fix a pitcher's elbow pain by slightly altering the way the athlete throws a ball and can prevent future injuries from happening.
(Source: https://www.massgeneralsportsperformance.org/news/136/Mass-General-Orthopaedics-Sports-Performance-Center-Opens-to-Public


Donna Moxley Scarborough, MS, PT
Clinical & Research Director
Mass General Orthopaedics Sports Performance Center
Brigham and Women's/Mass General Health Care Center

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