University research has shown that smartphones can help in the treatment of people experiencing shoulder pain.
Physiotherapy and rehabilitation scientists from QMU worked with specialists in Switzerland on the novel use of smartphone technologies to help establish which treatments could best improve patients’ shoulder function.
The amount of people experiencing shoulder pain is extremely high – up to 27% at any one time. After the lower back, that makes the shoulder the second most affected body part to experience pain. Across the specialism of physiotherapy within healthcare, there is an ongoing debate about the best methods to evaluate the effect of disease and pain on shoulder function. Patients often have to fill out medical questionnaires which try to establish how effective a treatment has been on their shoulder injury/problem. However, there are numerous styles of questionnaire, and due to the poor reporting quality, there has never been an agreed universal standard.
Professor Nigel Gleeson, an exercise rehabilitation specialist at QMU, directed the research. He explained: “The team had been looking for a better way to evaluate patients’ performance and to establish how treatment has helped improve pain and mobility in the shoulder.
“Computerized movement analysis could provide effective results due to its precision and reliability. The limitation is that computerized systems are expensive, and there are issues associated with training needs and patient accessibility.”
QMU worked with research partners in Switzerland to identify a solution to this problem. The team focused on the use of smartphones, which include three-dimensional movement sensors as standard. These smartphones are also affordable, easy to use and readily available, and can offer a more effective solution to evaluating patients’ shoulder performance following treatment.
The research was conducted by Claude Pichonnaz, a PhD scholar at QMU, in collaboration with Haute Ecole De Sante Vaud (University of Applied Sciences, Western Switzerland, Physiotherapy Department) and CHUV-UNIL, Orthopedics and Traumatology Department, Lausanne.
Eighty patients were involved in the study – some who were suffering from various conditions and diseases, such as osteoarthritis and capsulitis, and others who had experienced muscle injury or bone fractures. This high quality, well controlled trial confirmed that the novel smartphone technology was highly effective for correctly assessing improvements in the shoulder following treatments.
The double blinded randomised control trial was funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation.
Following on from this research, an app, ‘Hands up’ (developed by the company Gait Up, SA), has been developed. This free app is now available to support researchers and clinicians involved in patient care.
Looking to the future, Professor Gleeson said: “This project has shown great potential for the use of smartphone technology in rehabilitation and for optimizing individualised, self-managed care by patients.”
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