Extensive and specialized physical therapy usually follows a torn or ruptured Achilles. And you don’t have to be an NBA superstar to get top-notch care.

Five months after Louis Zaldivar, 25, tore his Achilles heel while playing basketball, the avid recreational athlete is back to running and jumping. Surgery repaired the tear, and physical therapy got him moving again, but Mr. Zaldivar still feels pain when he runs. So his therapist turns to a special technology that analyzes motion to pinpoint the exact cause of the pain.

“Motion analysis is something we use in the beginning or the end of therapy to tailor treatment for a very specific injury,” said Fernando Vega, a physical therapist at Miami Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute. “Using video of the patient’s movements, a special software slows down the motion to analyze how they’re stepping, striking their heel, extending their knees, shoulder and more. It give us very precise measurements.”

(Video was taken before the COVID-19 pandemic: Hear from Fernando Vega, physical therapist at Doctors Hospital Sports Medicine & Rehabilitation Center, about using motion analysis technology to enhance patients’ recovery from orthopedic injuries. Video by Steve Pipho.)

In Mr. Zaldivar’s case, Mr. Vega compared measurements and timing of the basketball player’s stride length and extension of his knees. The analysis showed a 5 percent difference in the range of motion between his left and right legs, a significant deviation that’s limiting his range of motion and contributing to the pain he’s experiencing. Having specific measurements enables the physical therapist to set clear goals for the remainder of the patient’s therapy.

“Even though Louis is back to running and jumping, I noticed he was favoring one leg, limping when he walked,” Mr. Vega said. “Now that we’ve analyzed the motion of his steps and angles of his strides, we can see exactly what’s causing his pain and work to improve it so he’s pain-free.”

The computer software has many applications. Mr. Vega has used it to help people of all ages recover from different injuries, from the elderly with broken hips to high-school athletes working on excelling their performance.

“Everyone’s norm is different. Analyzing specific movements and correlating measurements, such as the length of and timing of steps and strides, defines deviations and identifies range of motion deficit,” Mr. Vega explained.

Rehab After Orthopedic Surgery

Rehabilitation, specifically physical therapy, is a vital component to healing from an orthopedic injury. Leading orthopedic and sports medicine rehab centers employ advanced technology to bring patients and athletes back from sometimes devastating injuries.

“A lot of these orthopedic injuries are difficult, especially for people who are very active and want to get back to the same level of speed and strength,” said Charles Jordan, M.D., an orthopedic trauma surgeon with Miami Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute who operated on Mr. Zaldivar’s Achilles heel. “I rely on our physical therapists to apply what they think is going to make my patients feel better. They let me know what the technology is showing, and we work as a team each step of the way.”

Dr. Jordan used a minimally-invasive surgical technique to repair Mr. Zaldivar’s torn tendon. Stitching the tendon with “locked” sutures at both ends of the ruptured tendon results in a strong repair while reducing the risk of wound complications.

“The area around the Achilles is susceptible to scar tissue and a much smaller incision helps lessen that,” Dr. Jordan said.

Motion Analysis Video Helps Rehab Injuries 

The motion analysis system can also be used outside the rehab center, allowing the physical therapist to film patients in their normal environment. For example, they’ve taken the laptop and small video cameras to the park to film a baseball player throwing or pitching a ball, Mr. Vega said.

“We use the videos a lot with high-school coaches, sharing the videos with them to help them fix certain mechanics, like the way a pitcher throws a baseball or softball,” Mr. Vega said. “We can even draw on the video frames to highlight areas we want them to note. It’s a very useful tool.”

Another useful feature of the motion analysis computer program is its video “mirror” function. It plays back in real time video of the person’s exertion so he or she can watch themselves in action — walking, jumping and moving in other ways, to see firsthand the type and locations of weaknesses in their movements. It also has models of “ideal” movements built into the software. Using an avatar, like those featured in today’s popular video games, the patient’s video can sync with the model to mirror movements and see what needs to be aligned. Using the program’s Tiger Woods example, Mr. Vega demonstrated how he uses it to look for lower-extremity stability and upper-extremity mobility.

The high-tech video analysis is also a win for patients.

“Wow! This is really amazing,” Mr. Zaldivar said at the end of his therapy session. “Being able to see exactly what I need to work on is really helpful.”

The Baptist Health South Florida News Team was at Mr. Zaldivar’s physical therapy session to watch the motion analysis in action. Watch the video now.


For appointments, physician referrals, or second opinions please call us at 786-755-1435. International patients, please call 786-596-2373.

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