Students develop 'bruise trousers' to detect impacts from sports


Wheelchair basketball

Prototype trousers that enable people with paralysis to more easily detect potential injuries after sport has been developed by students.

The ‘bruise trousers’ consist of light-fitting, breathable, high-wasted Lycra trousers and reactive film. Inspired by a talk given by paralympian skier Talan Skeels-Piggins at the College, the Imperial College London team developed the trousers to enable people paralysed from the waist down to more quickly identify sections of their lower body that may be injured from high impacts following a sports game.

We hope in the future that our trousers will be used by athletes to better monitor their health and wellbeing.

– Lucy Jung

Innovation Design Engineering and Global Innovation Design, Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art

Many people living with disabilities struggle to correctly assess the severity of their injuries. Internal injuries often don’t give athletes visible warning signs such as swelling or marks on the skin. This can mean that potential life threatening injuries may be left untreated.

The team say their prototype trousers could provide more reassurance to sportspeople, setting the threshold at which players should go and seek help from healthcare professionals after or during a game. The trousers could be used by people in a range of sports including sit ski, wheelchair basketball and motor racing.

The trousers were developed by Lucy Jung, Elena Dieckmann, Dan Garrett and Ming Kong as part of the Innovation Design Engineering and Global Innovation Design courses, jointly between Imperial and the Royal College of Art. The project was done as part of the Rio Tinto Sports Innovation project, which challenges engineering students to design, build and implement Paralympic sporting equipment as part of their course.

Lucy Jung says: “We were really inspired by what Talan had to say about competing in sport and it was great to hear about his experiences. Offhandedly, he remarked about not being able to feel his injuries after competing in high impact sporting events and it prompted us to look more into this area. We found that many sportspeople often don’t realise that they’ve injured themselves because they can’t feel anything, which could have serious health implications. We hope in the future that our trousers will be used by athletes to better monitor their health and wellbeing.”

The trousers have pockets sewn in that contain strips of a pressure-reactive film. The film is more commonly used in industry to detect different pressure variations. For example, in printing industries, machinists use pressure-reactive film to check that the compression rolls move evenly in terms of the distribution of pressure to ensure that newspapers are printed correctly.

Where an impact occurs in the trousers, the pressure reactive film registers it as a magenta stain, which increases in colour intensity to reflect the strength of the impact.

The team carried out research in the lab to test how the film would react to different forces. They put the film onto animal bone samples, simulating human bones, and placing them in a device called a droptower and applying different loads. This simulated the impacts that sportspeople would feel on their bones during a game. They then analysed the film to determine what different impacts looked like in colour intensity and shape on the material. This enabled the team to develop a chart that can be used by sportspeople to determine the severity of impacts, allowing to gauge whether they need medical assistance.

In the future, the team aim to develop an entire bruise suit, which they hope could broaden its appeal to more people competing in a wider range of sports. The team is currently exploring further applications for the technology and developing a product line.


Colin Smith

Colin Smith
Communications and Public Affairs

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