Yet another wearable NIR device: this time underwater

Swimmers looking to monitor and improve technique and patients striving to heal injured muscles now have a new NIR-based tool to help reach their goals. An open access research article by scientists at the University of Essex in Colchester and Artinis Medical Systems in the Journal of Biomedical Optics (doi: 10.1117/1.JBO.19.12.127002) describes the first measurements of muscle oxygenation underwater and the development of the enabling technology.

“There are limited methods available for real-time measurements of human performance underwater. This is especially true during dynamic exercise as occurs in sport”, said one of the journal’s Associate Editors Marco Ferrari, a professor in the Department of Clinical Medicine, Public Health, Environment, and Life Sciences at the University of L'Aquila and a member of the JNIRS Editorial Advisory Board. “This paper is the first demonstration of the use of near infrared spectroscopy to measure muscle oxygenation in athletes during swimming. It has implications not only as a new way to monitor sports performance, but also as a way of tracking and optimising rehabilitation using water-based therapies such as cold-water immersion therapy.”

Near infrared spectroscopy is increasingly used in athletics, noted lead researcher Professor Chris Cooper, Director of Research Impact and Head of Research at the Centre for Sport and Exercise Sciences in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Essex, UK. Technological advancements in device hardware and software, including new wireless, telemetric and wearable devices, have made NIR measurements possible within a variety of field-based sports. However, currently available portable devices are not waterproof, and the aquatic environment provides an exercise medium within which any physiological measurement is difficult to make. The ability to monitor oxygen levels will provide swimmers with valuable feedback, and help ensure that working muscles have sufficient oxygen for sustained, strong performance and endurance.

“This work makes possible the measurement of peripheral muscle oxygenation changes in swimmers during aquatic exercise”, Cooper said. “Innovative modifications to existing swim apparel, such as modified snorkels, have led to the attainment of systemic measures of oxygen consumption. Now, the development of a waterproof near-infrared device will facilitate measurement of muscle oxygenation and blood flow in a previously inaccessible exercise setting.”