How Former NFL Star Arian Foster Wants To Help You Recover From Knee Surgery

The Former Houston Texan Knows A Thing Or Two About Coming Back From Injuries

By Kevin J. Ryan. This article originally appeared on Inc., January 5, 2017.

During his eight-year football career, running back Arian Foster led the NFL in rushing touchdowns twice, led the league in rushing yards once, and became the third-fastest player ever to reach 5,000 yards from scrimmage. He also went under the knife 14 times.

That last data point is a big reason why Foster helped develop Rehab, a mobile injury recovery platform from digital health startup Peerwell. The software, which launches Thursday, guides patients through their recovery from surgery, offering a series of tests and exercises that can be tracked via smartphone.

San Francisco-based Peerwell was founded in 2014 by Manish Shah, who previously launched marketing data startup LiveRamp, as well as healthcare vet Navin Gupta and former Palantir designer Evan Minamoto. Its goal is to create an app that can guide surgery patients from pre-op to through rehabilitation, improving the chances of a full and fast recovery.

“We started this company,” Shah tells Inc. “to help people that are going through these complex procedures get back to being themselves as quickly as possible.”

The first portion of the Peerwell app, Prehab, launched in 2015 with a focus on patients undergoing joint replacements in the knee or hip. The software offers users a daily pre-surgery program designed to set up patients for a successful recovery, which includes exercises designed to increase strength and improve muscle memory and a diet heavy in iron, protein and vitamin D.

Through mutual friends in the Silicon Valley startup world, Shah met Foster, who played for the Houston Texans and Miami Dolphins before retiring in 2016, as well as current Detroit Lions safety Glover Quin. Both athletes are prolific startup investors: Foster has stakes in companies such as financial planner LearnVest and juicer maker Juicero; Quin invests about 70 percent of his yearly NFL salary into companies.

Both players invested in the company and, along with a team of doctors, acted as advisers while Peerwell developed its Rehab platform. Foster, who has undergone surgeries on his shoulder, ankle, knee, back, groin, and Achilles tendon, is no stranger to rehabbing. “I have been through 14 surgeries myself, so I helped them understand what parts of my recovery process and care team worked the best to get results,” Foster tells Inc. via email.

Rehab sends patients a daily checklist of tests and exercises to perform. Knee surgery patients, for example, will run flexion tests: The user puts the phone in his or her sock, then bends the knee as far as possible without too much pain. Using the phone’s built-in accelerometer and gyroscope, the app measures the angle to which the knee bent, recording each result for the user and showing him or her how it compares to others at a similar timeline.

While surely no app can replace the practiced hands of a professional, Shah hopes it can provide a price-efficient assistant to keep recovery on track.

“The way we can have a big impact,” Shah says, “is by bringing costs of healthcare down for the patient. There’s a big need for that in our country.”

Peerwell, which currently has 11 employees, closed a $2.1 million seed round from XSeed Ventures in October. Competitors like SeamlessMD and My Recovery offer similar post-surgery recovery plans, but without the built-in ability to measure range of motion.

Even though Peerwell was developed in part by football players, it’s meant for everyone–from athletes to couch potatoes to grandparents.

Foster says that’s a big reason he came on board. “I want to bring the care that professional athletes can get to patients everywhere,” he says.

Featured image credit: Arian Foster scores a 42-yard rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter of a playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Jan. 7, 2012. (Images: Getty Images)