New hope for back injuries with vibrating 'robocop' suit

Dated:

A £6,000 vibrating posture suit that 'tells' users when they are moving incorrectly could produce benefits for people with back injuries.

Back Injury

The revolutionary device was developed by Stephen Wanless of Birmingham University's Department of Skills and Stimulation to help healthcare students move patients with back injuries more easily.

The 'robocop' suit, which cost £6,000 to develop, consists of straps which fasten around the user's arms, body and head. Sensors running up the spine to the back of the head have a wireless link to a computer application that shows how the wearer's posture changes from the optimal 'neutral' position.

As the patient walks, picks things up or sits, the sensors vibrate, producing a sensation similar to a mobile phone ringing in a pocket.

"The buzzing sensors work in the same way as those ridged white lines on a hard shoulder of a motorway," said Mr Wanless. "If drivers veer out of their lane, the vibrations give them the message to change direction. This suit teaches your muscles the same lesson – it's a tool for changing behaviour."

The suit is designed to rectify the bad posture unwittingly adopted by a majority of people. Noting that most individuals tend to bow their backs and hunch their shoulders – a 'critical C' position which risks back injury – Mr Wanless said: "The spine should actually be in the 'sloppy S' position, curving in from the pelvis and out to the base of the skull."

On the potential benefits of the vibrating posture suit for people with back injuries, Mr Wanless's team is optimistic. 96% of students using the suit showed they had correct posture by 'remembering' their lesson 8 weeks later.

Some users have reported mixed feelings about the suit's comfort. However, with over 17 million Britons suffering back injuries, at a cost to the economy of some £10bn every year, researchers at Birmingham hope the technology will be refined for use by care homes, GPs and podiatrists.




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