Research collaboration could help promote health and reduce injuries in NBA G League players

National Basketball Association (NBA), the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), and the Next Gen Basketball Players Union (NBGPU) in collaboration with GE HealthCare and MedStar Health today announced the completion of the data collection phase of a longitudinal pilot study of NBA G League players. The research study was designed to collect data that could help promote player health and wellness and reduce injuries. 

The largest assessment of training and game load on athletic performance across a full professional basketball season, the study monitored musculoskeletal and joint health of NBA G League players from four teams over the course of the 2023-24 campaign. The forthcoming study results aim to improve understandings of and help inform future best practices for playing, training, and recovery with focus on the structure and function of the knee joint – notably the patellar tendon.

The study performed prospective, longitudinal assessments on athletes by combining daily use of wearable technologies to provide consistent measures of game and training loads with serial biomechanical, kinematic, and force-producing assessments. Advanced imaging techniques used in the study included ultrasound shear wave elastography, MRI equipped with deep learning reconstruction, and image-based muscle analysis by Springbok Analytics. These assessments began during G League training camp in early November and concluded at the end of the G League season in March. 

Ultrasound shear wave elastography is an advanced, quantitative method for analyzing functional changes in the patellar tendon, and when used to measure the stiffness of tissue in the patellar tendon, the method has the potential to identify risk factors or indicators of tendinopathy onset. To date, this will be the first time the method is used in a research study on elite professional basketball players.

Executive quotes

Erin Angel, PhD, VP, Research & Scientific Affairs, GE Healthcare

"GE HealthCare is excited to team up with the NBA and the participating G League players on this pioneering study to improve how the musculoskeletal health of players is analyzed and measured with the hope to find innovations in how athletes can address their musculoskeletal and joint health concerns. As a leader and innovator in medical technology, we view this imaging study as important for learning more about the human body and how it reacts to physical activity, with the possibility of extending learnings to care for pro athletes, amateur athletes, and the non-sports world beyond."

Wiemi Douoguih, MD, Medical Director, MedStar Sports Medicine; Chair NBA Research Committee; Study Co-Principal Investigator

"For professional athletes, injuries can take a huge toll on their career success, so it has long been one of the goals of the NBA's Research Committee to promote player health and wellness in the interest of reducing injuries and lengthening careers. This research lays the foundation to help us better understand the balance between playing, training, and rest so that players can remain as healthy as possible, coaches and teams can have their best season, and fans can see their favorite stars play the game."

Scott Magargee, CEO and Co-Founder, Springbok Analytics

"We are pleased to continue our ongoing collaboration with the NBA for this study. NBA, the NBPA and GE HealthCare are at the forefront of better understanding athlete health and performance, and we are proud that our muscle analytics technology - improving personalized training, injury knowledge, and return to play decision-making - is playing an important role."

Asheesh Bedi, MD, Chief Medical Officer, National Basketball Players Association; Study Co-Principal Investigator

"We are excited to announce this first-of-its-kind study on workload. This has been an area of great interest, and there has yet to be a comprehensive data set on professional athletes to assess the impact of workload on musculoskeletal and joint health. This study is invaluable in bringing together medical professionals and key opinion leaders in the scientific community to advance the health and wellness of our athletes. Members of the Next Gen Basketball Players Union have powered this study throughout the 2023-2024 season, and their commitment underscores their passion for the long-term well-being of athletes at all levels."

Study methodology and technology used

This study features GE HealthCare's SIGNA™ Premier 3.0T wide-bore MRI scanner enabled with AIRTM Recon DL AI software for fast high-resolution imaging, and specialized ultrashort-TE T2 star research sequences to identify structural and compositional changes in the knee joint.

GE HealthCare's LOGIQTM E10s Ultrasound with ML4-20-D transducer was used to perform serial Ultrasound elastography diagnostics on the knee (patellar tendon) of participating players. The ML4-20-D probe uses XDclearTM transducer technology-;an innovative combination of advanced materials and acoustic design-; that provides high quality images to support musculoskeletal assessment. The LOGIQ E10 Series, equipped with advanced tools including 2D Shear Wave Elastography, enables qualitative and quantitative assessment of tissue elasticity. 

Springbok Analytics' AI-based 3D muscle analysis was used to better understand players' muscle health. Springbok's technology uses MR image data to create a 3D model of individual muscles, revealing a more complete view of musculoskeletal health, precisely quantifying metrics including muscle volume, muscle asymmetry, fat infiltration, edema, as well as tendon and bone morphology.

The work is the latest in MedStar Health's portfolio of orthopedic and sports medicine-related research projects, which include studies with other professional leagues and federations on topics ranging from injury prevention, innovative surgical techniques and the application of novel 3D printing technology. 

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