Bionic Knees, Adventure Travel, Trekking And You
As a medical doctor, I know that the knee is one of the most commonly injured joints in the human body. Around 60% of sports-related injuries impact the knees, and the resulting lifetime risk of developing knee osteoarthritis (OA) is estimated to be as high as 45%. And yet, to date conventional knee braces have not really addressed this problem; many patients are left with mobility impairments that force them to give up on doing the things they love. I haven’t just seen this as an ER and family medicine doc, I’ve also experienced knee injuries firsthand. As an avid photographer, I’ve learned that sometimes you need to hike quite a bit through challenging terrain to get to the most photogenic spots. At times, it feels like the knee injuries I’ve personally experienced have the potential to progressively limit the way I can travel in the future.
While visiting Antarctica we stopped off at Deception Island– it wasn’t the easiest trek for my knee, but it was well worth the climb up to the peak to see the vista and volcano, active just 50 years prior.
I first heard about a company called Spring Loaded Technology in the summer of 2014 while on a trip to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and I was immediately captivated by the ambitious vision of Chris Cowper-Smith and Bob Garrish, the company’s founders. These guys and their great team are developing what is likely the world’s first bionic knee brace, which directly improves the user’s mobility. For athletes, Spring Loaded’s technology is being designed to offer reduced fatigue, heightened endurance, and increased performance. For individuals with knee injury or osteoarthritis, Spring Loaded’s bionic knee braces are focused on increasing mobility, reducing joint compression, and reducing pain.
I was glad to have visited this remote section of The Great Wall of China, near Mutianyu, when I was younger, before I started getting more knee pain with climbing. Super slippery and slick when it’s raining, it’s definitely not a place where you want to have your knee go out on you!
So how does it all work? Spring Loaded’s unique bracing technology is streamlined and lightweight. It augments the function of the anterior leg muscles, the quadriceps, by capturing the energy generated by body weight and gravity during knee flexion, then returning that energy as the user straightens their legs. The brace also provides the usual proprioceptive and functional benefits of knee braces. Boosting leg extension strength and stabilizing the knee joint can be used to prevent, alleviate and help rehabilitate the symptoms of knee injuries and osteoarthritis. Assisting strength also offers the opportunity to reduce fatigue, thereby enhancing performance in activities like hiking and skiing, while simultaneously reducing the likelihood of injury for people with currently healthy knees.
Sometimes a bit of a trek is required to get to the best vista, as in this vista captured from above a mountain village in Morocco
As a medical doctor turned software entrepreneur, now in my third ‘career chapter’ as an angel and impact investor in medical innovations, information technology and social enterprise, Spring Loaded fits perfectly into the kinds of companies I’m passionate about investing in.
As I mentioned above, I also have a personal reason to be particularly interested in this technology: I’ve got a long-standing anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury. Years ago I experienced a complete ACL tear with resulting cartilage damage in my right knee. The injury increasingly causes me more challenges when I travel, threatening to impact one of my and my wife’s passions: expedition travel photography. Carrying 20 pounds of camera gear up and down tough slopes isn’t easy at the best of times, let alone with an ACL tear and early OA! I definitely notice my knee aching more after a week of hiking. It often feels increasingly unstable after a day of trekking and especially so when I’m going downslope, making it more likely I’ll reinjure it, causing the problem to get even worse. I am certain that wearing a Spring Loaded bionic brace would help alleviate at least some of these challenges and enable me to keep on traveling with my wife to amazing areas across the world, to capture more amazing photographs in the future!
When traveling to Bhutan and looking at visiting the remote Tiger’s Nest Temple, I made the difficult decision to forgo climbing all the way up to this highest temple because I frankly wasn’t sure I’d be able to make it back down, as that’s where my knee usually feels most unstable. I had to settle for some telephoto shots taken from the base of the mountain where the temple is situated.
We’ve traveled to all seven continents in just the past couple years, but my wife and I still have a lot of adventure travel (and expedition photography) ahead of us – I’m confident that using Spring Loaded’s brace will give me the confidence to climb even the highest peaks. As a medical doctor and angel/impact investor in healthcare innovations, I’m honored to be able to support the company as an investor and mentor. As a future customer who loves to travel, I’m definitely looking forward to using the Spring Loaded knee brace myself!
In the Ecuadoran Amazon rainforest, the steep climbing and descents in deep, slippery mud while hiking wearing poorly fitting rubber boots was particularly arduous, but the flora and fauna became more spectacular the further my wife and I went into the rainforest. However, it would have been a lot easier if I felt like my knee was more stable during the trekking!