Measurement of lower-limb asymmetry in professional rugby league: a technical note describing the use of inertial measurement units

PeerJ. 2020 Jun 23:8:e9366. doi: 10.7717/peerj.9366. eCollection 2020.

Abstract

Background: Quantifying lower-limb load and asymmetry during team sport match-play may be important for injury prevention and understanding performance. However, current analysis methods of lower-limb symmetry during match-play employ wearable microtechnology that may not be best suited to the task. A popular microtechnology is global positioning systems (GPS), which are torso worn. The torso location, and the summary workload measures calculated by GPS are not suited to the calculation of lower-limb load. Instead, research grade accelerometers placed directly on the lower-limb may provide better load information than GPS. This study proposes a new technique to quantify external mechanical load, and lower-limb asymmetry during on-field team sport play using inertial measurement units.

Methods: Four professional rugby league players (Age: 23.4 ± 3.1 years; Height: 1.89 ± 0.05 m; Mass: 107.0 ± 12.9 kg) wore two accelerometers, one attached to each foot by the boot laces, during match simulations. Custom Matlab (R2017b, The Mathworks Inc, Natick, MA) code was used to calculate total time, area under the curve (AUC), and percentage of time (%Time) spent in seven acceleration categories (negative to very high, <0 g to >16 g), as well as minimum and maximum acceleration during match simulations. Lower-limb AUC and %Time asymmetry was calculated using the Symmetry Angle Equation, which does not require normalization to a reference leg.

Results: The range of accelerations experienced across all participants on the left and right sides were 15.68-17.53 g, and 16.18-17.69 g, respectively. Clinically significant asymmetry in AUC and %Time was observed for all but one participant, and only in negative (<0 g) and very high accelerations (>16 g). Clinically significant AUC differences in very high accelerations ranged from 19.10%-26.71%. Clinically significant %Time differences in negative accelerations ranged from 12.65%-25.14%, and in very high accelerations from 18.59%-25.30%. All participants experienced the most AUC at very low accelerations (2-4 g), and the least AUC at very high accelerations (165.00-194.00 AU vs. 0.32-3.59 AU). The %Time results indicated that all participants spent the majority of match-play (73.82-92.06%) in extremely low (0-2 g) to low (4-6 g) acceleration intensities, and the least %Time in very high accelerations (0.01%-0.05%).

Discussion: A wearable located on the footwear to measure lower-limb load and asymmetry is feasible to use during rugby league match-play. The location of the sensor on the boot is suited to minimize injury risk occurring from impact to the sensor. This technique is able to quantify external mechanical load and detect inter limb asymmetries during match-play at the source of impact and loading, and is therefore likely to be better than current torso based methods. The results of this study may assist in preparing athletes for match-play, and in preventing injury.

Keywords: Acceleration; Accelerometer; External mechanical load; GPS; Global positioning system; Impact; Injury; Performance; Team sport.

Grants and funding

The authors received no funding for this work.