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Spine device trains hands of future physical therapists

A new tool gives physical therapy students a better way to master the complex fine motor skills needed to assess and treat conditions like back pain and spinal cord injuries.

Researchers at the University of Melbourne’s School of Computing and Information Systems and the physiotherapy department developed the tool—dubbed SpinalLog—which looks and feels like a human spine.

The tool uses smart foam sensors to measure pressure that students’ hands or fingers apply to the spine during a simulated assessment.

This information is then displayed on a 3D spinal model depicted onscreen, providing real-time time visual feedback on the pressure pattern and technique the student uses to mobilize the spine.

SpinalLog offers students a safe way to practice their skills, says Eduardo Velloso, a human-computer interaction lecturer who helped design the device.

“Traditionally, to teach these skills, the instructor demonstrates a force pattern on a volunteer and asks students to practice on each other by replicating the moment. However, because these movements are very subtle, it is difficult for students to observe them fully.

“Similarly, when students perform the movements themselves, it is difficult for instructors to provide feedback based on what they can see.”

Preliminary tests show the visual feedback has a huge impact on students’ ability to replicate the force pattern demonstrated by the instructor.

Physiotherapy senior lecturer David Kelly says SpinalLog represents the real-life conditions of a human spine suffering different levels of stiffness, which brings the clinic to the classroom.

“Students get clear and immediate feedback on an authentic feeling spine,” Kelly says. “This means they get a better experience; they learn faster, and are able to mimic what the instructor is teaching them, making them better prepared for the sorts of techniques that they’ll need as practitioners.”

Source: University of Melbourne