Augmenting forearm crutches with wireless sensors for lower limb rehabilitation

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Merrett, Geoff V. ; Ettabib, Mohamed A. ; Peters, Christian ; Hallett, Georgina ; White, Neil M. (2010)

Forearm crutches are frequently used in the rehabilitation of an injury to the lower limb. The recovery rate is improved if the patient correctly applies a certain fraction of their body weight (specified by a clinician) through the axis of the crutch, referred to as partial weight bearing (PWB). Incorrect weight bearing has been shown to result in an extended recovery period or even cause further damage to the limb. There is currently no minimally invasive tool for long-term monitoring of a patient's PWB in a home environment. This paper describes the research and development of an instrumented forearm crutch that has been developed to wirelessly and autonomously monitor a patient's weight bearing over the full period of their recovery, including its potential use in a home environment. A pair of standard forearm crutches are augmented with low-cost off-the-shelf wireless sensor nodes and electronic components to provide indicative measurements of the applied weight, crutch tilt and hand position on the grip. Data are wirelessly transmitted between crutches and to a remote computer (where they are processed and visualized in LabVIEW), and the patient receives biofeedback by means of an audible signal when they put too much or too little weight through the crutch. The initial results obtained highlight the capability of the instrumented crutch to support physiotherapists and patients in monitoring usage.
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