Sports medicine has come so, so far in the last generation, and the industry is poised to take off even further with the popularity of smartphones. With wearable fitness trackers, biologic implants and even a zero-gravity treadmill already on the market, sports medicine is one of the world’s hotbeds of innovation.
Here are 50 different companies that are exploring the frontier of this field of medicine. Some are established companies with the resources to push forward, and some are startups that are going to market with a single great idea. A lot of their work is mind-blowing.
Read on, and you’ll see why we might not even recognize much of the technology used in sports medicine in the coming decade.
Memphis-based Active Implants raised $26 million last fall to move its NUsurface Meniscus Implant through further clinical trials. Active Implants’ two products, the NUsurface and the TriboFit Hip System, are both designed to revolutionize knee and hip replacement.
How do you run without putting any weight on a surgically repaired ankle? By removing gravity. AlterG is building anti-gravity treadmills to speed up the recovery and rehabilitation processes for patients.
Aquatic Safety Concepts
Sadly, the vast majority of drownings involving children occur under the supervision of an adult. Aquatic Safety Concepts aims to stop this with its Wahooo Swim Monitor, which fits on a swimmer’s head like a headband and sends an alert to a lifeguard or responsible adult when its wearer is submerged for too long.
Arthrex is a huge company with more than 7,500 products for arthroscopic and minimally invasive orthopedic surgery. When sports medicine startups come up with great innovations, Arthrex has the resources to buy the company outright and get the innovation to market faster.
Asics, the shoe company, has its own Institute of Sport Science. For nearly 30 years, Asics’ research institute has studied and designed a number of materials and products to help athletes train more effectively and prevent injuries.
Atlas’ first product is a yet-unreleased fitness tracker that you wear like a watch. The device tracks every mile you run, every rep you do and every calorie you burn, giving you instant feedback on how you are doing.
Athos also makes wearable fitness trackers, but instead of watches Athos actually makes clothing that accommodates special sensors. Just slide the Core sensor into one of the clothing item’s pockets, and it will track heartbeat, reps, breathing, calories and a number of other data points. Readouts will show up on your phone or tablet. The company says first orders will ship in the summer of 2014.
Azellon Cell Therapeutics is experimenting with technologies that look completely sci-fi. At the moment, the company is testing bandages made of stem cells whose first applications, if results are successful, would be meniscus tears.
Azoi is taking pre-orders for its health monitor, Wello, which actually doubles as an iPhone case. When a user puts his/her fingers on the Wello’s touch points, the phone gives a quick readout of health data, including heart rate, oxygen levels and blood pressure. It even works as a medical-grade ECG.
Bespoke Innovations is 3D printing custom parts it calls “fairings,” which are essentially coverings for a prosthetic that allow a user to regain their natural contours and silhouette.
Japan’s BifrosTec is currently developing a signal processing algorithm that would detect a person’s heartbeat through his or her headphones. As many of us already wear headphones and earbuds in the gym, anyway, this would be a naturally easy technology for millions of people to adopt.
Biomet develops a number of products to help make surgery to knees, shoulders, feet, ankles and other body parts easier, safer and less invasive. Biomet is based out of northern Indiana and employs nearly 10,000 people.
Biomimedica is still in the early stages of developing devices that will revolutionize joint repair, making active lifestyles available and pain-free for the 27 million Americans who suffer from osteoarthritis.
Bioventus spun off from Smith & Nephew in 2012 and set up headquarters in Durham, North Carolina. The company develops and markets a whole portfolio of various products designed for orthopaedic procedures, including an ultrasound system that helps bones heal faster.
Blacktree Fitness Technologies
Blacktree Fitness began taking pre-orders for its AIRO fitness tracker, which you wear on your wrist, but the company later refunded those purchases over concerns about the rigor of device’s testing. AIRO made a big splash last fall when news came out that the fitness band would be able to track calories burned and consumed. No news yet as to when the company will again accept pre-orders.
California-based company Breg makes a number of sports medicine devices, including knee braces and shoulder braces. He has since stopped, but for a while the company’s manager of customer education maintained an informative blog on the company’s site.
UK-based CamNTech develops a number of physiological monitors so a patient can track energy expenditure, sleep times and rhythms, and cardiovascular health. The company’s MotionWatch 8 monitor, which you can wear on your wrist to track activity and sleep, just got cleared by the FDA earlier this year for sale in the US.
Cayenne makes a number of products to help in the reconstruction of soft tissue ligaments found in the knee and shoulder. Its AperFix System allows surgeons to perform ACL reconstructions with hamstring and other soft tissue grafts.
Ceterix came out of stealth mode last summer with a couple of products that allow orthopaedic surgeons to suture soft tissue tears in tight joint compartments such as the rotator cuff, the meniscus, and the hip and shoulder labrum without actually opening up the joint.
ConMed develops a number of tools and devices that aid in arthroscopic surgery, including some of the best suture passers on the market, allowing surgeons to perform arthroscopic surgical procedures in some very tight joint compartments.
DePuy Mitek, Inc.
DePuy Mitek is a member of the Johnson & Johnson family of companies. The company itself offers more than 350 different tools and devices for sports medicine practitioners and specialists.
DJO Global is one of the leading manufacturers of orthopaedic devices in the world. Interestingly, the company was founded in 1978 by local California attorney Ken Reed and former NFL offensive lineman Mark Nordquist. The D and J in the name are their wives’ initials.
Flexion is still in the clinical stage of development with its candidates of injectable pain relievers. The company’s goal is to come up with analgesics that are both more effective than existing therapies and have fewer side effects.
Fitbit is one of the hottest startups in any industry right now. Fitbit makes a collection of fitness trackers, including a wrist tracker; a scale that measures weight, body fat and BMI; and a handheld activity/sleep tracker. All of these devices sync with a user’s smartphone.
Game Ready is a collection of compression and cold therapy technologies developed by CoolSystems, Inc. The University of Florida’s basketball team relied on Game Ready earlier this season, before its Final Four run, when so many players started the season with injuries.
Of course the world’s fourth largest public company (and also one of its most innovative) is involved in sports medicine. GE Healthcare makes a number of imaging machines and scanners. Their machines have been in the clinics at Olympic villages since 2005.
Heapsylon, like a few companies on this list, makes a collection of wearable fitness trackers. One particularly noteworthy device is the Sensoria Fitness Sock, which will send a readout to your phone illustrating where on your foot your put pressure when you run, alerting you to potentially injury-prone running habits.
Hexoskin, developed by Carré Technologies, is also developing wearable fitness trackers that track fitness data, sleep patterns and even stress levels. Some of the company’s biggest customers so far have been the Canadian space agency and the Canadian Olympic team.
Instabeat is a Lebanese company making a fitness tracker just for swimmers. The device slides right along the support straps on a standard pair of goggles. It tracks your heartbeat as you swim and gives real-time visualized updates on your heart rate so you can optimize your training.
KFx designs and manufactures soft tissue fixation implants for orthopaedic surgeons. Currently, its selection of products include an arthroscopic cleat implant and a sliding suture implant for subpectoral opens.
Portugal’s Kinematix launched in the US last year with a line of portable, wearable sensors that help orthopaedic doctors, podiatrist and sports medicine professionals find the right prescription footwear for a patient. The sensors relay information back about a patient’s mobility and can even alert nurses and doctors the moment something goes wrong.
Medtronic is a huge company — it’s the world’s fourth largest medical device company — that operates in a number of fields. In late 2010, the company acquired Osteotech for its biologics division. Osteotech had been developing a number of biologic products for regenerative healing in bones, which now gives Medtronic further expertise in helping treat severe sports-related injuries.
Atlanta’s Medshape makes a handful of specialized orthopaedic products that aid in a variety of surgeries. For instance, its DynaNail system reinforces ankles, which can be a blessing for anyone whose total ankle replacement surgery was not 100% successful. Medshape also has a soft tissue anchor called the Eclipse to make tendon-to-bone attachments easy.
MinInvasive is so new that the company’s website is not even ready, at least at the time of writing. In August of last year, the company raised “several million” dollars to develop a minimally invasive device for rotator cuff surgery that will allow surgeons to stitch the tendon to the bone without opening up the joint.
Germany’s Moticon has developed a sensor insole that analyzes the effects of repeat impacts on the foot from running. This will allow professional athletes and even amateur hobbyists an opportunity to tweak their running motions for efficiency and safety.
Nike Sports Research Lab
Nike stays pretty hush-hush about what goes on inside its 16,000-square-foot research lab in Beaverton, but in late 2012 Nike gave Popular Mechanics a tour of the facility. Click the link above for 10 photos of the lab that Nike will begrudgingly let you see.
NuOrtho Surgical, Inc.
NuOrtho is still in the early stages of testing a platform that will allow surgeons to preserve a great deal more of healthy tissue from bones and cartilage. The company thinks that — and is testing whether — saving more of the healthy tissue will speed up recovery times.
Italy’s OrthoSpace has been greenlighted to market its InSpace product in Europe but not yet the United States. InSpace is a balloon-like system that is inserted into the rotator cuff to allow for smooth, frictionless motion between the bone structures. Deployment of the balloon only takes 10 minutes.
Germany’s Ottobock has long been at the forefront of brace and prosthetics technology. The company was created at the end of WWI in response to a massive need among war veterans, and in 2009 it opened its brand new science center in the middle of Berlin to celebrate 90 years in business.
Reebok quickly moved to the front of innovators who are trying to find a solution for football’s concussion problem. Its CHECKLIGHT head monitor — which collects head impact data and has a red light to warn of any problems — was awarded the International Consumer Electronics Association best of innovations award for 2014.
ROG Sports Medicine
ROG is innovating not so much in its product offering — the company sells anchors, sutures and instruments for orthopaedic surgeons — but in the way it does business. Its products are environmentally friendly, the company does business directly with hospitals and care centers, and its prices do not include any markups for intellectual property such as patents or exclusive rights. ROG innovates by simply making the technology affordable and thus more accessible.
RTI sells a collection of bone and tissue grafts that allow for natural implantation and faster times in the operating room. So, if a patient ruptures and achilles tendon, for example, RTI’s allographs can implant real human tissue, pre-shaped to fit the patient’s ankle, so the transplant has a higher rate of success and faster rate of acceptance by the surrounding tissue.
Skulpt has designed a fitness tracker that you can place right up against an individual muscle to analyze its composition. The device will rate your muscle quality and tell you how much fat is present. Eventually, this technology could make flexing in front of the gym’s mirrors almost obsolete.
Smith & Nephew
Smith & Nephew is a British-based medical device manufacturer that has been in business since before the Civil War. Their innovations are so numerous that daughter companies have to be spun off (see Bioventus above). Their current range of sports medicine products includes tools for minimally invasive joint surgery such as suture anchors for rotator cuff repair and the FAST-FIX line for meniscus repairs.
Stryker is also a big player in the medical devices industry, having just been named one of the world’s best 100 places to work and an official partner for the PGA Tour. In March, Stryker acquired Michigan’s Pivot Medical, Inc., which sold innovative tools for hip arthroscopy.
Boston’s Tekscan has created a posture scan called the MobileMat BESS on which a patient stands to analyze his or her balance. This is an especially useful tool in gauging concussion symptoms or the effects of contact sports.
Tenex has developed a minimally invasive procedure that allows surgeons to remove damaged soft tissue that leaves healthy tissue alone and spurs regeneration. Tenex says the procedure can be done within 20 minutes using only local anaesthesia.
Xsens is developing a number of tools for 3D motion tracking so that it can more precisely measure human motion, especially at athlete speed. The company’s line of products focuses on either inertia sensors, human motion trackers and 3D character animation.
Zensorium says it “creates experiences beyond the five senses.” The company’s first product is the Tinké, which measures things such as heart rate and blood-oxygen level by reading your fingertip. Plug the device into your phone afterward for a readout.
ZetrOZ has created the first wearable ultrasound device, called sam, that gives athletes and anyone suffering from chronic pain four hours of continuous therapy. The company’s line of ultrasound products extends to a number of other fields, including veterinary devices and food safety devices.