Researchers at the Nagoya Institute of Technology in Japan have developed a device that can diagnose and help correct postural instability that causes back pain. The technique involves using vibration to stimulate sensory receptors that help the brain perceive the position of the body in space, which is known as proprioception. The approach is based on the hypothesis that poor proprioception leads to postural instability and subsequent low back pain.
Back pain is a very common condition, especially among the elderly, and can often seem inevitable. Pain can be caused by postural instability, which refers to a lack of balance and a tendency to be unstable when standing. Poor proprioception, also known as a poor ability to perceive body position in space, may be the basis of postural instability. Therefore, these researchers hypothesized that identifying where and how this occurred in the body and mechanically stimulating the regions involved could help.
Proprioception uses sensory receptors that detect movement and position, known as “proprioceptors.” This new approach is based on providing vibratory stimulation to low-performance proprioceptors to improve their function. To date, researchers have tested the technique on six elderly patients with back pain.
Over a 3-month period, patients carried a series of vibrators at various locations in the trunk and legs while standing on a balance board. While assessing balance, the researchers varied the vibratory stimulation in terms of frequency and time. Half of the patients showed an improvement in their proprioception after the study and responded specifically to higher vibrational frequencies. The results suggest that the technology could help relieve back pain, but research is still at an early stage.
Interestingly, the Japanese team believes the device could also help diagnose malfunctioning proprioceptors, which could lead to specific therapy. They are now planning a larger trial to investigate the full potential of their technology.
“The clinical trial is scheduled to begin in April this year and will be conducted over the next three years,” said Yoshifumi Morita, a researcher involved in the study, through an announcement from the Institute of Technology Nagoya. “We plan to see if the improved proprioceptive sensation can be maintained for a long time, thus relieving the elderly of low back pain.”