Tech Talk: Inside pro mountain biker Jill Kintner's light therapy rehab
Jill Kintner had to get back on her bike in a hurry. The former Olympic medalist and now pro mountain biker had suffered a knee injury, but it was an Olympic year. She was looking for every possible training edge she could find.
“After my surgeries I had to get back quick because of it being an Olympic year,” she tells SI.com. “People are coming and going and wanting Olympians to use (their products), so I got to pick and choose and used a lot of modalities to heal faster.”
One of those technologies was the LumiWave, which she credits as helping get her body tissue recover quicker with infrared technology.
What is it?
The medical-grade LumiWave device from the Colorado-based company uses LED-powered infrared technology to locally heat and stimulate circulation in joints and deep-tissue areas of the body for temporary pain relief and to limit swelling.
The short wavelengths of the light allows the beams to penetrate skin and soft tissue and the light then sends signals to cells to kick-start its biological process, including stimulating the healing response.
How do Olympic athletes use it?
Vinny Comiskey, a San Diego-based athletic trainer who has trained with many Olympians, including Kintner, says working with the U.S. Olympic team exposed him to a range of technology and products. “We had a high level of scrutiny,” he says. “We wanted to make sure it was appropriate for use by athletes trying to make the Olympic team and not just throw Voodoo at them that wouldn’t be the best practice.”
That’s how Comiskey was first introduced to light therapy. He did his homework on it, he says, and then started testing it on benign injuries. “We started to get results with soft-tissue injuries,” he says. “You start to use it, you see reactions and then the athletes give us two thumbs up.”
Pain management proves vital for athletes. Comiskey uses the light therapy prior to training to stimulate soft tissue. For Kintner, her knee was troublesome enough that it hurt during recovery exercises. Doing therapy before a rehabilitation session helped mitigate the pain. Light therapy after a session reduced inflammation.
Comiskey says using light therapy varies for each athlete, as every body responds differently to treatments. So Comiskey is cognizant of mixing light therapy with other therapy, finding the right “recipe” for each athlete.
What are the benefits?
Kintner says that for her, the ability for the light to get into places she couldn’t otherwise stimulate with exterior heat or ice helped improve her recovery time. “It gets through to the source of the injury,” she says. “You want everything to move and heal. Generally injuries with inflammation, you are using light therapy when a lot of other things can’t (get to the source).”
Kintner, who now trains on the mountains in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia, says injuries for her can take nearly any form. “You don't hit the ground as often as people think,” she says, “but there is a lot of bruising that comes up and shoulder [injuries].”
With such a long season—spring through September—the injuries pile up. And so does the inflammation that turns Kintner toward light therapy. The off-season is a time of rehabilitation for her, but also a time to work on power, intervals and skill.
All along the way, there’s a risk for injury and Kintner wants to use whatever therapy gets her back on the bike the quickest.
Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, sneakers and training for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.