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The University of Southampton

Intelligent crutch with sensors to monitor usage

Published: 5 August 2009

A forearm crutch which incorporates sensor technology to monitor whether it is being used correctly has been developed by engineers at the University of Southampton.

The crutch was developed by Professor Neil White and Dr Geoff Merrett at the University's School of Electronics and Computer Science in conjunction with Georgina Hallett, a physiotherapist at Southampton General Hospital.

It is fitted with three accelerometers that detect movement and force sensors that measure the weight being applied to a patient's leg and the position of his/her hand on the grip.

Data is transmitted wirelessly to a remote computer and visual information is displayed on the crutch if the patient uses it incorrectly.

'A growing number of people are in need of physiotherapy,’ said Professor White, ‘but reports from physiotherapists indicate that people do not always use crutches in the correct manner. Until now, there has been no way to monitor this, even though repeated incorrect use of the crutch could make the patient's injury worse.’

The new crutch has been developed using low-cost, off-the-shelf technology and sensors similar to those used in Nintendo Wii.

‘These crutches will make it much easier for patients to be taught how to use them properly, and how much weight they are allowed to put through their injured leg,’ said Georgina Hallett. ‘This will help them to get out of hospital faster and also reduce their risk of further damaging an already injured leg by putting too much or too little weight through it.’

At the moment the crutch is suitable for monitoring and training patients in hospital environments, but the researchers have plans to develop a pair for use in patients' homes.

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