RGU researchers to help develop device for back pain sufferers

Researchers at Robert Gordon University (RGU) have won over €500,000 of funding as part of a major international project aimed at helping back pain sufferers manage their condition.

L-R  Dr Kay Cooper, Dr Stewart Massie and Dr Nirmalie WiratungaSelfBACK will see researchers and organisations from around Europe work to develop a decision support system for those suffering from low back pain as part of the €4.9m Horizon 2020 EU funded project led by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).

The condition, which is cited as the most significant contributor to disability in Europe, is the fourth most common diagnosis seen in primary care. Self-management, which includes physical activity and strength and stretching exercises, constitutes the core component in the management of non-specific low back pain. 

RGU’s input, which will involve researchers from across two faculties, will see Dr Nirmalie Wiratunga and Dr Stewart Massie from the School of Computing Science and Digital Media working with colleagues at the NTNU for the first three years of the project to develop the monitoring technology.

In addition, Dr Kay Cooper from RGU’s School of Health Sciences, will investigate the best ways of changing the behaviour of the person if they are not managing to adhere to a prescribed plan.

Dr Wiratunga, who led RGU’s funding bid, said: “Essentially, we would be using wearable technology to monitor whether a patient is following a plan of exercise and stretching developed for them by a GP. It would be able to monitor if a patient was adhering to that plan and if not, look at how we can build in prompts and triggers to encourage them to do so.

“I am absolutely delighted to be involved with this project. It is one of those projects that will hopefully have a big impact on something that is a real issue for society. It is one that brings together technology and health and I think we both have a lot to learn from each other which I am looking forward to.”

Dr Cooper added: “Some patients find self-management of a condition such as low back pain quite challenging due to a lack of feedback and reinforcement about the decisions they are making.

“What the research partners are aiming to do in this project is develop a system which will provide them with the reassurance they need to manage their condition after consulting a health care professional.”

The last two years of the project will see randomised trials of the SelfBACK technology carried out to evaluate its effectiveness, with the project team anticipating a 20% reduction in pain-related disability after nine months of using it.

The other organisations involved in the project include the University of Glasgow; French software company Kiolis; the National Research Centre for the Working Environment (NRCWE) in Denmark; Dutch company Health Leads; and the University of Southern Denmark.

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Jenny RushCommunications Officer | Design and Technology