Ghent University spin-off OnTracx launches innovative tool for prevention and rehabilitation of running injuries

More than half of all runners experience overloading at least once a year, resulting in painful joints or tendons. With OnTracx, the wearable and app from Ghent University’s new spin-off, you can now easily measure your load and thus reduce the risk of injury, or speed up rehabilitation.

Ghent University spin-off OnTracx launches innovative tool for prevention and rehabilitation of running injuries

"We developed algorithms to correctly measure the load on the body, since excessive load is the biggest risk factor for running injuries," says Rud Derie, co-founder of OnTracx, a recently founded spin-off from Ghent University. "Moreover, load is invisible to the naked eye and is highly individual. Until recently, it was only possible to measure this in very expensive and specialized laboratories. With our solution, you can now record and monitor this in your own private setting. And that is an important step toward both prevention and rehabilitation."

In concrete terms, the product concerns a wearable that you attach to the lower leg (just above the ankle), an app to which you connect it, and a platform that neatly and securely keeps track of the data for you. You receive information per running session, and the total accumulated load is calculated and visualized week by week. A chart shows when you put more (or less) strain on your body. This way, runners can monitor how they gradually build up the load. This allows the body to adapt better, with the aim of avoiding future running injuries.

After each session the runner can monitor how they felt during the run and if they registered any pain, so that this information can be discussed over time with, for example, a physiotherapist, podiatrist, doctor or running coach. “Most wearables on the market do not take this into account. They are mainly aimed at improving performance or provide so much data that no one can make sense of it anymore," explains Senne Bonnaerens, co-founder of OnTracx.


Becoming the most reliable player in the market

Measuring and controlling the mechanical load on runners' bodies is what OnTracx is all about. "Everyone knows the typical running analyses. These mainly look at how a person runs. However, we know by now that most problems arise from an imbalance between how much a runner’s body is loaded and what it can handle. And that is not determined solely by how you run. The problem with that is that many people have no idea how much they are loading their body, and how to build this up properly so their body can recover in time," adds Derie.

“For example, the two of us recently went running at the Ghent Watersportbaan and we found through our technology that one person had loaded themselves no less than 40% more than the other,” says Senne Bonnaerens. “This can be explained by a combination of factors such as running style, but also by footwear, the running surface and how the body processes such forces. Until now it wasn’t possible to determine something like this in an outdoor environment and therefore you couldn’t take all factors into account. That is now changing.”

Senne Bonnaerens previously worked as a Ghent University researcher on this theme before he co-founded OnTracx. “In my PhD I investigated the influence of different running styles on the load on the body. When my colleague Rud Derie told me that he was going to take the plunge and start a spin-off, I almost literally raised my hand to indicate that I was also interested in that. And so the story began. What unites us is that we want to become the most reliable player in this market.”

From research project to spin-off

The potential spin-off was at the top of the priority list of business developer and sports technology expert Kristof De Mey, because of various promising running-related research projects within the Sport Science Laboratory Jacques Rogge in Ghent. The Industrial Research Fund (IOF) of Ghent University, to which De Mey is affiliated, believed in the spin-off’s potential as well. After the necessary agreements with the university's Tech Transfer Office were made, he started the entrepreneurial process together with the two researchers.

“What characterizes us is that we want to go to market quickly to learn from our customers and users. Scientific insights have taken us far, and we will continue to focus on that. However, our goal now is to effectively solve a problem that affects millions of people. The technology has the potential to make this possible in the long term, especially if we also consider the specific needs and requirements of our target group.”

The company has already received funding from imec.istart and the Bluehealth Innovation Fund, and also started the corresponding acceleration program at the beginning of this year. Additionally, OnTracx has received support from several private investors.


Put the runner at the heart of the equation

The technology will soon be made available for both the individual runner and the professional who guides him/her, such as physiotherapists, coaches, podiatrists, or sports doctors. Furthermore, OnTracx has started collaborations with shoe stores and sports medical centers. “Even some running shoe and sole manufacturers have already shown interest. But whatever we do, we want to continue to put the runner at the heart of the equation,” they assure.

That’s why the new solution offers numerous additional possibilities for the future. OnTracx plans to realize integrations with existing players in the market. Think of sports watches or running apps such as Strava. On the other hand, full efforts are being made to make the system more intelligent and (even) more personal, by integrating the already available information into the underlying platform and the accompanying app.