For people with lower limb problems, making regular trips into a physiotherapy clinic can be a major hassle if they live in a remote region. That's why Deepti Aggarwal, a PhD candidate at Australia's University of Melbourne, created the internet-connected SoPhy "smart socks."
Often, physiotherapists use services such as Skype to perform video consultations with patients located in far-way places. And while this does allow them to watch as those patients go through exercises such as steps, squats or jumps, it doesn't provide a full indication of how those people are progressing.
The SoPhy socks were designed to address that problem.
Each one is equipped with three sensors that transmit data to the internet via an app on the patient's smartphone. Using a web portal, physiotherapists who are conducting video consultations can also access real-time readings on the patient's weight distribution, range of foot movement, and foot orientation.
The system has already been tested by one physiotherapist treating three patients with chronic pain, out of Melbourne's Royal Children's Hospital. Not only did it boost the therapist's confidence in their assessments by providing information that wasn't visible in the video, but it also allowed them to correct their assessments in cases where the visual cues were misleading.
"Often, without realizing it, patients will apply different tricks to not bear weight on the injured leg, such as pushing through their toes or heels," says Aggarwal. "These movements are so subtle that they can be missed by the naked eye, even in a face-to-face consultation. The SoPhy visualization clearly highlights whether the patient is bearing any weight on the injured leg and in which parts, such as in the front, side or on the heels of the foot."
In their current form, the socks cost around AUD$300 (US$231) per pair to make. It is hoped that if they were commercially produced on a large scale, however, the price would drop. Additionally, $300 is still much less than most remotely-located patients would spend over time, making trips to and from a clinic.
The SoPhy socks can be seen in use, in the video below.
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