A wearable physical therapy prescription

It’s been 3 months since I began rehab for the injury I wrote about in Learning to walk again. Six weeks ago I began working with a team of excellent physical therapists, and I’m making good progress. I’ve started to do a bit of running and biking, but only in an exploratory way. I’m far from being able to resume those activities at normal levels.

Meanwhile I’ve thought a lot about what it takes to make a major biomechanical correction. The effort required is at least as much mental as physical. To recover strength and range of motion in my right leg I’ve got to make sure that it moves in certain ways and not in other ways. That sucks up a huge amount of conscious attention. As a lifelong athlete I know how to marshal that kind of attention, and I’m highly motivated to recover, so there’s a good chance I’ll succeed. But it’s a significant challenge. The PTs say that many folks can’t sustain the long-term focus needed to turn something like this around.

So I continue to imagine a wearable device that would help people offload the supervisory function. I’m envisioning buttons you’d stick onto your major joints. They serve both diagnostic and corrective purposes. In diagnostic mode they do 3D motion capture. You give the data to your physical therapist, she uses it to confirm or enhance her analysis of your case. Then she beams a prescription to your buttons. In corrective mode they embody that prescription, vibrating or buzzing when you move in the wrong way.

Even when uninjured, of course, we’re not biomechanically perfect. We could all improve our posture and gait, and we’d all feel better for it. So an effective device-plus-service solution could help a lot of people.

Would it work? Beats me. I’d love to try but wearable computing isn’t really my sweet spot. If it’s yours, and if you take a crack at this, let me know how it goes.

3 thoughts on “A wearable physical therapy prescription

  1. Mary Branscombe (@marypcbuk)

    have you talked to the Kinect team? I know of Kinect apps that do visual tracking for physical therapy; wouldn’t solve the all day/every day problem but it could useful for capturing a baseline and observing you doing common activities so you can get the ‘feel’ or when you’re doing it right. And good luck!

    Reply
  2. Doug K

    the Retul bike-fitting system uses 3d motion capture which could be helpful for you on the bike at least,

    http://fitwerx.com/motion-capture-analysis

    it’s an interesting idea to use the same buttons in corrective mode, but not sure this is the best approach. If the patterns of motion are out of balance, it’s unlikely that just concentrating on correcting them will be enough – the derangement probably began with some kind of problem in strength or flexibility, rather than a failure of attention.

    Reply
    1. Jon Udell Post author

      We don’t know the initial cause and may never know. But whatever happened, the compensations I then unconsciously made massively compounded the problem. I recruited muscles to do things they shouldn’t do, they held up for a while and then failed. It’s amazing in retrospect that I let it happen, but then, maybe not, that’s how it goes when a deviation builds up bit by bit over a long period of time.

      Now I’m working on strength and flexibility, and it does require a ton of attention. Whether a wearable solution could help is an open question, the UI would be a huge challenge!

      It’s a bit easier to imagine a solution that would have prevented the problem in the first place, by establishing a healthy baseline and then periodically checking it.

      Reply

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