3 ways IT helps spine care, research

New app monitors every which way a person moves, collects data
By Jeff Rowe
10:57 AM

“Sit up straight!” Mom said more than once, and while it was always tempting to shrug it off as just an excuse to correct something else, it seems she may have had a point.

Speaking about a new posture monitoring product from her company, LUMO BodyTech, co-founder Monisha Perkash recently pointed out that “Posture is scientifically correlated with back pain, which is a $50 billion a year problem. It’s the second most common reason why people go to the doctor, outstripped only by the common cold.”

To help address bad posture and the myriad ailments that can result from it, LUMO released LUMOback, a belt and sensor app that, to a certain extent, tells the wearer exactly what Mom told him, but a whole lot more, as well.

“We can measure, track, quantify and understand things about your body, your biomechanics and your behavior that we previously couldn’t,” Perkash said.

Indeed, while the LUMOback app is currently the company’s primary focus, co-founder and technology chief Andrew Chang explained that the company’s overarching goal is “to quantify movement to the highest resolution.”

For purposes of improving a customer’s posture, the app’s built-in sensor measures all of the customer’s movements, whether walking, standing, lying down, or sitting.  Those measurements are then calibrated to determine a biomechanical model of what constitutes “normal” for the customer, and from there the improvements can be made.

According to Chang and Perkash, the capacity to measure movement to such detail has a range of applications beyond getting people to sit up straight.

  1. Measuring sedentary behavior - “Sitting is the new smoking,” Perkash observed, which is a pithy way of summing up medical researchers’ new interest, given the “epidemic” of sedentary behavior throughout society, in understanding more thoroughly the connection between movement and physical health.  Posture when sitting, for example, has been shown to have an impact on breathing and oxygen flow.  Correlating that phenomenon with stress measurements can lead to a better understanding of how to manage the extended desk time that comes with much of today’s professional life.
  2. Remote care monitoring - According to Chang, biomechanical modeling and measurement is gaining interest from the elderly and those who care for them.  For example, he said, an expanded application of sensor technology could enable remote care givers -- or concerned family members -- to monitor the activities of an elderly patient or relative to ensure their safety.
  3. Sleep studies -- Chang also noted the interest of sleep researchers into the application of motion monitoring technology.  Sleep apnea patients, for example, are unable to sleep on their backs because of the mask they’re wearing to help them breathe.   Motion sensors could monitor their motions and, when necessary, give them a subtle vibration to alert them when they are rolling in the wrong direction.

“Micro-movements are really important,” Chang said, “and it’s the small changes that can dramatically change health over time.”

Noting that ability of sensors to transmit directly to the cloud, he added that researchers will increasingly be able to look at movement from a population level.  

“Now we can starting pushing data out into the medical system,” he said.  “From there, the next step is to figure out how to integrate it into a number of different care programs.”

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