Motion-Sensing Wearable to Help Treat Back Pain

Back Pain

Although back pain is common, what causes it can be attributed to many factors.  It can be hard for clinicians to know how exactly how to treat it.  Digital News reported on work being conducted by the Spine Research Institute's engineering and medical researchers.  This involves use of a wearable system, in combination with a database containing results of patient analytics, to help inform better clinical decisions.

Led by SRI Executive Director William Marras, the focus of this research has been on lumbar-fusion surgery patients, even though this wearable motion-sensing system technology can be used to help other pain sufferers as well.  What has been found is a discrepancy between how people said they felt about their pain, and the movement and actual functional improvement after their surgery.

This recent work has resulted from research the SRI has conducted for decades, related to the study of forces imposed on the spine during activities of daily living, using what was essentially the first wearable back sensor developed about 30 years ago.  This device has recently been retrofitted with commercially available chips commonly found in mobile devices.  This motion sensing system, called "Conity," features a clinical lumbar motion monitor outfitted with chip sensors mounted on upper back and waist harnesses.  A person's three-dimensional "motion signature" is captured during the performance of a series of standardized movements.

This technology is able to look at whether of not a person has back impairment, and what the status is.  Is it getting worse, progressing, or "off the scales"?  Because damage to the back, particularly the discs (having few nerve receptors) can go unknown, the SRI team plans to continue to collect motion-sensor data on people with and without back pain independently of the study to improve the technology as well as expand motion-sensor testing availability across the county through the clinician software that the researches developed.

Our SRI team has published a paper on this report; it can be found in the journal Clinical Biomechanics.