Meet the Inventor
Nic Bartolotta is a Licensed Physical Therapist and Holistic Health Practitioner. In 2001 a knee injury threatened to end his collegiate athletic career as a springboard diver. Using an alternative therapy method called “Resistance Stretching” he was able to successfully rehabilitate his knee (without surgery) and returned to his sport excelling at the highest levels of competition. The experience of overcoming an injury that he was told would inevitably lead to a knee replacement surgery changed his perspective on what was possible in physical medicine and led him to pursue a career in healthcare.
He began his education with a 1000 hour massage program which granted him a Holistic Health License in 2004. Utilizing his hands on bodywork education and his personal rehabilitation experience Nic began to expand on the concepts of resistance stretching that he was first introduced to in 2001. For over 10 years he has been developing a therapeutic system of bodywork called Dynamic Contraction Technique also known as DCT. However DCT did not really begin to take shape until Nic decided to take his education one step further and enrolled in a Master’s program for Physical Therapy in 2007. During his time in graduate school Nic continued to work with his private clients continually refining the DCT methodology and techniques. Shortly after beginning his formal training as a Physical Therapist Nic had a major breakthrough in his understanding of muscle physiology joint mechanics. Interpreting these revelations through the unique lens of DCT led him to invent the DCT ProFlex.
After testing the ProFlex with hundreds of clients and seeing incredible results Nic decided to file for a full utility patent. He submitted the patent application in 2008 while still a full time grad student, and a little over 4 years later the US Patent office approved the application acknowledging both the novelty of the device and the method of its use. The ProFlex only represents one small part of the DCT system, but the story behind its innovation and development is representative of Nic’s passion and ambition to change the way we approach healthcare.
Read the story behind the DCT ProFlex in Nic’s own words. Below is an interview that Nic did regarding the process of innovation and how he took the idea for the ProFlex from concept to reality.
Q: What inspired you to create this product?
Nic: It’s just like the saying goes, “Necessity is the Mother of all Invention.” I had a very clear need for this product, and it didn’t exist, so I made it myself. It was a real American DIY process, but with regard to what inspired me, it was all driven by the need to solve a problem.
Q: What was the problem that you were trying to solve?
Nic: It was a problem of leverage. The technique (DCT) that I developed requires the ability to overpower a muscle while it is contracting and force it to lengthen under tension. This is called an eccentric muscle contraction. Anyway, the muscles that cross the Ankle are so incredibly strong, and the foot is such a short lever arm that it is pretty much impossible to force an eccentric contraction by hand. You need more leverage in order to do it. The ProFlex attaches to the foot and basically creates a longer lever arm which gives the user the ability to easily generate the force needed to eccentricly stretch the muscles of the lower leg.
Q: It seems like a pretty simple idea for a product, why do you think no one had invented it before?
Nic: There are actually two very different reasons that I think no one had invented this product. The first has to do with how we have been taught to “stretch” muscles, and the second has to do with an oversimplified understanding of the joint mechanics of the ankle. Let’s start with the first reason: If you were to ask 10 people to explain how to stretch a muscle, 9 out of 10 will tell you that to get a good stretch you have to relax the muscle and then passively lengthen it as far as possible, when it starts to get painful you relax even more and breathe into the pain. Because it has been universally accepted that stretching is done passively, it is not hard to see why a product designed to maximize leverage for an active stretching method like DCT had not been developed. That being said, a lot of products have been invented to help strengthen and stabilize the ankle joint.
Which brings us to the second reason why the ProFlex is unique: Most people erroneously think of the ankle as a basic hinge joint. This is evidenced by the fact that orthotics specialists and designers have made numerous products that use a mechanical hinge and force the ankle to pivot around a fixed axis point. The human ankle joint is far more complicated than that, and when you point and flex your foot the axis actually moves in an arc with the foot. To accommodate for this very dynamic motion the ProFlex operates without a mechanical hinge at all, and instead attaches to the foot and lower leg so that the unique mechanics of the ankle are perfectly maintained during the exercises. The ProFlex is the first product to be patented based on this concept of a “biological axis of motion.”
Q: You said you made the ProFlex yourself, can you describe what the innovative process for you was like?
Nic: Going from concept to creation was definitely an interesting experience. It began with 3 different clients asking me on the same day if I had any DCT exercises that directly released tension from the calf muscles. The question drove me crazy because the answer at that time was, “No, I don’t have the leverage I need to do that.” After the third client in a row asked me about stretching their calf I decided that I would just make something to give me that leverage. As soon as the idea was planted I was obsessed and I couldn’t stop until it was done. It only took 3 days to complete the first working prototype. I taught myself how to hand sew and spent over 20 hours converting a horse’s bridal into a foot strap; by the time I finished making the foot strap my fingers were bleeding because I couldn’t find a thimble big enough to fit my thumbs. I finished the prototype using nylon webbing, Velcro, and metal footman’s loops to attach the foot strap to a long flat piece of wood. As soon as it was done I began testing it on myself and with my clients, and within a week I realized that I would need to buy a sewing machine. And so I did, I got an industrial sewing machine and started the R&D process in earnest. Ultimately I contracted designers with far more skill at sewing than I had and worked with my business partners to refine product features and prepare the ProFlex for production.