Wearable Gait Technology – Improving Physical Therapy

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Americans walk 3,000-4,000 steps every day on average. Walking is normal behavior that most people take for granted. The way people walk is a major predictor of injury, overall health, and recovery.

Wearable gait technology is now making strides in improving diagnosis and treatments in physical therapy.

Innovators from Georgia Tech’s College of Engineering have built StrideLink, a wearable device that could improve physical therapy. In addition, a special step detection algorithm allows the gadget to capture more specific data. This can help physical therapists with gait analysis, which measures mechanics, body movements, and muscle activity.

 

Gait Analysis – Wearable Technology to Improve Diagnosis

Gait analysis is useful in many fields, including medical diagnosis, chiropractic, rehabilitation, and more. Currently, gait analysis is done by seeing patients walk and noting any patterns or faults. However, this method is very subjective and error-prone.

When many elderly people fall, it’s physically traumatic and affects both their families and quality of life. However, when geriatric patients fall, it’s all about how they walk.

Startup Launch is a CREATE-X program for Georgia Tech students who aspire to create and launch sustainable enterprises. In the summer of 2020, two friends, Marzeah Khorramabadi and Cassandra McIltrot, were sitting on a veranda discussing their studies. In particular, they spent time talking about the elderly’s danger of falling.

It wasn’t easy getting to their initial prototype, let alone the finished product. The researchers were facing three major hurdles in developing their gait tracking gadget.

The first was knowing the consumer well enough to comprehend the regulatory restrictions and their systems. The second was figuring out what data they could get from the gadget. Finally, they wondered what they could do with the data.

They spent six months interviewing and researching physical therapists to learn how they did gait analysis without technology. Their goal was to know what their needs were. While people usually design initially without talking to their customers, these designers believed that would be a big mistake.

And as an engineer creating for someone in a completely different profession, like healthcare, that mistake could be more significant.

 

StrideLink in Use

They quickly recruited team members, Neel Narvekar and Tony Wineman, to help build the prototype and create the hardware’s wearable technology. With Narvekar’s innate creativity, the team built their own case, designed their own circuitry, and coded their own firmware. Wineman’s expertise in electrical engineering allowed the team to construct a custom circuit board for the device.

Their software and signal processing have been quite stable because of them. In addition, having unique, dependable hardware enables them to achieve and improve many of the features of the StrideLink device.

 

The StrideLink Sensor Connects to the Shoelaces

The next step was to test the device. Using innovative step identification algorithms invented by Khorramabadi, StrideLink could record gait cycle time and time spent in different phases of walking. Previously, while analyzing gait with the naked eye, these times were manually recorded.

The operations of human walking take milliseconds to complete. Therefore, the human eye cannot accurately compare them to Stridelink’s data recording wearable technology. Additionally, when Stridelink was tested against a $40,000 lab gait system, it had a substantially narrower margin of error.

A team of undergraduates put this device together in only 4 months for about $100. Outperforming a $40,000 system considered the gold standard for that kind of analysis was unexpected.

 

StrideLink – The Future of Wearable Gait Technology

The team is now tweaking their device using input from local clinics. These clinics are piloting this wearable gait technology after it won “Best Overall Project” at the 2021 Capstone Design Expo. They believe this wearable technology will vastly improve therapist-patient communication and provide additional data to help define treatment programs.

In a world with expanding telemedicine appointments, accessibility is a major drive for both Khorramabadi and McIltrot. They believe this wearable gait technology could be in every physical therapy clinic helping diagnose and treat patients more effectively.

Dr. McIltrot hopes that patients will be sent home with exercises and a StrideLink. With this technology, she believes it will help the patients communicate with their therapists in more precise and helpful ways.

 

Image Credit: Rodnae Productions; Pexels; Thank you!

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