There are many anecdotal reports - but no well-controlled scientific studies - indicating that athletes with tibial stress fractures return to activity more quickly when they utilise Aircast pneumatic braces on their afflicted legs. To see whether pneumatic braces really are helpful, US-Army researchers recently took a close look at 31 active-duty soldiers who had been diagnosed with tibial stress fractures. 17 of the soldiers wore a pneumatic brace on their stress-fractured leg, while 14 individuals served as controls. All 31 subjects were monitored on a weekly basis as they gradually recovered from their stress fractures and slowly but steadily worked their way back to pain-free running at reasonable paces ('A Randomised Controlled Trial of a Pneumatic Leg Brace Versus Traditional Treatment in Individuals with Tibial Stress Fractures,' Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, Vol. 32(1), p. A-3, Abstract PL07, 2002).
As it turned out, use of the Aircast pneumatic brace provided no advantages at all. It took an average of 41 days for pneumatic-brace subjects to recover enough to complete a pain-free one-mile run, while control subjects required 46 days (the difference was not statistically significant). There was also no difference between groups for the time taken to hop on the injured leg in a pain-free manner, nor was there a difference in the amount of pain recorded over 24-hour periods. There's no word yet on whether makers of the Aircast are worried by the results, but they are surely bracing themselves for future research.
But this may be an excellent training device for athletes with shoulder problems
Athletes whose sports involve throwing a ball of some kind, including cricketers, baseball players, shotputters, and American football quarterbacks suffer from a high frequency of shoulder injuries and often are forced to look for a sport-specific (functional) way to rehabilitate their shoulders after injury. Tennis players, squash players, handball competitors, and swimmers are in the same boat; their shoulders are at risk, and they often need to rehab a shoulder damaged by overuse.
The Bodyblade, a long slender device which looks something like a very thin propellor from an airplane, has been marketed as both a valuable exercise tool (the ads claim that Bodyblades build fitness with just minutes of daily exercise) and as a terrific aid for athletes who want to upgrade their shoulder strength. Unfortunately, a recent scientific study detected no improvement in shoulder strength associated with regular Bodyblade use.
To assess the true merits of the Bodyblade, researchers at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, Georgia (USA) recently worked with 17 male college baseball players ('The Effect of a Bodyblade Training Protocol on Shoulder Strength and Throwing Velocity,' Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy, Vol. 32(1), p. A-51, Abstract PO65, 2002). Four groups were created:
(1) Baseball pitchers who trained with the Bodyblade
(2) 'Control' pitchers who did not use the Bodyblade
(3) Position players who worked with the Bodyblade
(4) 'Control' position players without Bodyblades
The control players continued with their regular training and seasonal competition, while the Bodyblade players combined their normal training and play with four Bodyblade exercises. These exercises included side-to-side, overhead movements using a two-hand grip, frontward motion with the Bodyblade employing a two-hand grip (something like chopping wood with an axe), a routine throwing motion (like throwing a baseball) while holding the Bodyblade in one hand, and a side-to-side arm motion (not overhead) with a one-hand hold. Each exercise consisted of two repetitions of each of the four exercises, with the duration of each repetition progressively increasing from 30 to 60 seconds over the 10-week study period. The Bodyblade subjects worked with their blades three times per week during the investigation.
At the end of the 10-week period, athletes who trained with the Bodyblade were able to throw a baseball at a significantly higher velocity, compared with the no-Bodyblade players. The Armstrong Atlantic State University researchers found no improvement in shoulder-muscle strength in the Bodyblade trainees, but this is probably because they measured shoulder strength in a non-sport-specific way. The fact that the Bodyblade players could throw a baseball harder is a sign that they actually were functionally stronger, that is, stronger during an activity that was relevant to their sport. It is likely that the one-hand throwing motions utilised with the Bodyblade, with the blade providing excellent resistance to motion, improved throwing strength enough to cause the observed upgrades in speed.
Since rehab exercises following injury should provide little trauma to injured tissues, strengthen the neuromuscular system in a sport-specific way, and
prepare an athlete for a return to activity, the Bodyblade appears to be an excellent rehabilitation-training device. It does not involve impact forces or large stresses on joints, and it appears to be able to provide sport-specific strengthening. In addition, the Bodyblade does appear to be a time-efficient training implement, as its marketers claim. The athletes in this study improving throwing velocity with just 10 minutes of Bodyblade exercise, carried out three times per week.