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Young businesswoman in wheelchair sitting in front of coffee machine and making hot drink while pressing one of several buttons on panel

New methodology using smartphones to quantify trunk function in patients with spinal cord injury

Researchers from the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC) and the Institut Guttmann–Neurorehabilitation Hospital have developed a new methodology of relating the level of spinal cord injury with trunk function, in a quantitative and personalised way. The new approach, published in  Journal of Neural Engineering, combines the electromyography (EMG) with the accelerometer of a smartphone offers a very useful tool which permits quantifiable follow-up during rehabilitation sessions and complements a clinical evaluation with objective data.

Injuries to the spinal cord, at the cervical or thoracic level, cause the deterioration of motor and sensory functions in parts of the body that are below the point of injury. One of the health complications that this can entail is lack of control of the trunk muscles, essential for tasks such as maintaining balance, eating, dressing, picking up or manipulating objects, and many other daily tasks.  

Despite the great impact of trunk motor function on the quality of life of patients, there is no objective and standardized system for its measurement. Clinical evaluation is the most common method, but it includes a high degree of subjectivity as it is based on qualitative scales.  

Now, a team of researchers led by Raimon Jané, leader of the Group for Processing and Interpretation of Biomedical Signals (BIOSPIN) from IBEC and professor at UPC;  and by Hatice Kumru, neurologist and coordinator of Neurophysiology at the Institut Guttmann, and Joan Vidal, teaching director and leader of the Institut Guttmann Neuro-repair and advanced therapies group  have developed a new methodology that can objectively and quantitatively determine trunk function in patients with a spinal cord injury. T

A method that combines muscle activation with movement patterns 

The starting point of this work published in the Journal of Neural Engineering, was another study recently published in the Scientific Reports journal, where the same team of researchers fine-tuned this new technique by measuring thoracic function during a reaching task performed by healthy human subjects sitting in a wheelchair.  

The new approach developed by the Jané and Kumru groups is based on combining activity measurements of different chest muscles, using electromyography (EMG), with movement patterns such as speed, acceleration and inclination angle. Researchers have used a smartphone-type accelerometer fixed to the patient’s chest region as a simpler and more cost-effective alternative to motion capture systems.  

Once the methodology was fine-tuned using healthy human subjects, the second study studied 24 patients with spinal cord injuries in the cervical or thoracic area, who had to move their trunk to reach a button located 15 centimeters away from their wheelchair.  

» For further information: IBEC website [+]