‘Smart’ Crutch May Prevent Injuries

Engineers at the University of Southampton, England, have developed a forearm crutch that incorporates sensor technology to monitor whether it is being used correctly. The crutch is fitted with three accelerometers that detect movement, as well as force sensors that measure the weight being applied to a patient's leg and the position of his/her hand on the grip. Data from the sensors is transmitted wirelessly to a remote computer, and visual information is displayed on the crutch if the patient uses it incorrectly. The device has been developed using low-cost, off-the-shelf technology and sensors similar to those used in the Nintendo Wii.

The crutch was developed by Neil White, PhD, and Geoff Merrett, MD, at the university's School of Electronics and Computer Science in conjunction with Georgina Hallett, a physiotherapist at Southampton General Hospital. "A growing number of people are in need of physiotherapy," White said, "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."

"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," Hallett said. "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.