Today we have the pleasure to interview Ralph van der Horst from Sports Performance Zaanstad, the first professional in Netherlands to use infrared thermography for injury prevention.

Introducing Ralph van der Horst:

My name is Ralph van der Horst, and I am by origin a sports Physiotherapist / Performance coach. I have been in the nosiness for more than 25 years. For the last 20 years I have been working with elite athletes, amateur athletes and “weekend warriors”. I have specialized myself in 2 distinct areas: The Hamstrings ( I wrote a book: Hamstrings explained) and complicated knee injuries ( ACL / PCL ruptures, instability injuries, Patellar femoral problems in youth athletes).

Graduated in 1989 I directly moved to the USA where I worked in a large sports medicine facility. After two years I changed country to Switzerland to work with cyclist and snow skiers at the highest level. Also I was invited to teach on a Swiss university which I have done for over 3,5 years ( subject that I taught where anatomy, sports physiology) through a head hunter I returned to the USA to work in Florida and later in Upstate NY in renowned sports clinics. In 2000 I returned to the Netherlands where together with 2 friends we decided to start our own business a little bit west of Amsterdam. Due to the success, we started in 2007 a second facility in a city called Zaandam.
From 2011 on I felt that the things we did were not entirely what I wanted. I wanted to focus more on the performance, and less on “normal” physiotherapy. So, we decided to split and go our separate ways. That’s how Sports Performance came to life.

Sports Performance
After preparation of more than 2 years, Sports Performance opened its doors on September 6 2016. A facility entirely adapted to active processes. SP has three “branches:
– Personal training, Small group training, business fitness
– Sports rehabilitation, post-surgery (orthopedic and sports related)
– Elite sports performance

For each branch one person has the responsibilities, makes sure that that particular branch is running smoothly. It is like American football: each line has its own coach and I am the head coach. So, I make connections between the different branches, I organize meetings, schooling etc. It is a total team effort.
How did I come across Infrared Thermography (IRT)?

In 2014 I joined a group of performance coach who were training and learning at EXOS (formerly Athlete’s Performance) in Phoenix AZ, USA. Here I met some incredible smart people. Three of them, Javier Arnaiz from Spain, Lucio Martins from Brazil and Jorge Maren from Mexico and I decided that we wanted to share our knowledge with people from around the world. We wanted to do this in different parts of the globe. First city would be Madrid Spain, and Javier was going to arrange it. It turned out to be a fantastic occasion. Three days of pure excitement and knowledge. I was so impressed by Javier. He arranged everything at the University Madrid. During that time, he introduced me to something that was very dear to him, and something that I might like. I also met Ismael Fernandez, another bright smart man. They gave me a brief introduction of IRT, and immediately was intrigued. But it was during our next session in Sao Paulo Brazil, where I got to see the potential of IRT. Ismael presented there, and I was sold! From then on I was sure that I wanted to be the first one in Holland to work with this incredible tool.

I have been working with IRT for 2 months now, and I already see so many benefits for my own clinic. I feel that I can use it is 2 of our three branches. In rehabilitation, we use the camera every week on our ACL patients. By using the camera, we can see how much load we can put on the body without overloading it.
In one case I have used it on a Hamstrings figure skater. She had been injured on the same leg three times. We started all over, using the camera and depending on the results of the pictures, we adjusted the training loads. Now, 8 weeks on, she is still improving, no setbacks, and she is able to train 100%. Thanx to IRT.

In elite sports, I now follow a professional soccer player, currently active in the French Ligue 1. Everey 2 weeks I travel to Lille, France to take pictures and to advice him accordingly. He is so excited about it, that he wants me to do that for the whole coming season.
In Holland, IRT is not used, so I am the first one. Last week I had a meeting with AZ Alkmaar (number 4 of last Dutch professional soccer league) I evaluated 5 players, and the medical staff was blown away. It is now up to the president of that club, but I have a great hope and expectation, that AZ will start using IRT as well. I will be there as an “consultant” to the medical staff. They feel very comfortable about that.

An ex top 100 professional tennis player from the USA (Alexa Glatch) who has been injured for over 2 years arrived and trained at Sports Performance for the last three weeks. Every 2 days we used the camera to see whether she was overloading her injured knee. By doing so we could increase the knee without the risk of overloading. Thanks to IRT she was able to really train her knee, and as a result she is getting stronger than she has been for the last 2 years.
Her coach has invited us to come to NYC right before the US Open to give a presentation about the rehab protocols we are now using. IRT has become a large part of it.

Examples that I have just mentioned have made me realize that even though I think our staff is really high standard, IRT has given us a tool to treat our patients and athletes even more personal. What really helps me a lot is the “return to play” factor. Finally there is an objective tool that will help us to decide the moment of RTP.
Due to the fact that my passion is Hamstrings, I now am going to collect so much data to see if I can improve my own protocol. That will be the next project.