Digital Health System for Standardization of Back Pain Care

digital health

A digital health system enables clinicians to know when a heart disease requires cholesterol-lowering drugs. It also alerts when there is a need to warrant insulin shots for type 2 diabetes. Moreover, millions of people also suffer from back pain. However, decisions are mostly based on patient discomfort, which often means expensive diagnostic tests and treatment. And despite that, patients usually don’t go home permanently cured.

Digital Health System for Back Pain

Researchers at Ohio State University are making a digital health system approach design. It will improve decision-making linked to back pain, for which, studies were conducted and completed. They aim to apply data-driven practices to assess and repair back problems caused by spine dysfunction.

In a recent study published in Clinical Biomechanics, researchers evaluated the low-back function of lumbar surgery patients using motion sensor data. They also used combined disability measures and self-reports of pain for the evaluation. Furthermore, although self-reports of post-operative pain relief and lower disability were given within six weeks, no improvement was seen in objective metrics. There was no functional improvement in the spine for six months post-surgery.

The basis of a more subjective decision for surgical patients can be formed with these precise motion-based measures, in addition to their inclusion in a burgeoning national database of patient spine-function scores with other medical data.

William Marras, senior author said,

You simply can’t only ask people how they feel about their back

He further added,

For back pain, people are asked to rate how they feel on a scale of 1 to 10. But since you don’t have pain receptors in the disc, what does that mean? Our technology tries to bring objective metrics to the problem and look at not only how people feel about their back pain, but also quantitatively measure how their motions are different and what that means in terms of biomechanics

Retrofitted Devices

Daily living forces on the spine are assessed in the study. Marra developed the first wearable back sensor thirty years ago. However, his team recently retrofitted these devices and used commercial fitting chips found in cell phones. It helps them know where people in the space are.

The system is known as ‘Conity’. Equipped with chip sensors, it can monitor lumbar motion. The chips sensors are mounted on the upper back and a waist harness captures a three-dimensional motion signature. The combination of technologies yields quantitative data in the range of motion along with movement velocity and acceleration. These are the figures, which according to Marra are more informative in understanding the spine.

Functional improvement wasn’t seen for the first six months. But patients were self-reporting steady progress as early as six weeks post-surgery.

Researchers also noted that pain relief is important. However, objective functional assessment is a better gauge of when the patients can safely return to normal activities post-surgery.

Marras said,

Our technology is able to look at, 1, whether or not you have a back impairment, and 2, what is its status? Is it getting better, is it getting worse, is it progressing, or is it off the scales?

When you’re doing damage to the back, and particularly the discs, you don’t know when the damage occurs because we have very few nerve receptors in the disc. You could be doing damage and people would never know.


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