Ending back pain

Strathclyde engineers have created an exercise device which could help put an end to low back pain.

The so-called Orthominder is designed to tackle the root cause of the problem – which affects up to 85 per cent of adults in the UK at some point in their lives – by enabling sufferers to effectively carry out an exercise known as the ‘hollowing manoeuvre.’

This simple, painless exercise is regularly recommended to build up muscle endurance, but it needs to be carried out up to 100 times a day to be effective. The Orthominder acts as a discreet reminder, as well as measuring whether the user is performing the manoeuvre correctly. It also allows the user to download data on a PC to review their progress.

Inventor Mojtaba Kamyab at Strathclyde University’s National Centre for Prosthetics and Orthotics developed the system in response to concerns that traditional back support braces – widely available over the counter – can actually lead to the wearer doing less exercise, with the back muscles becoming even weaker as a result.

The Orthominder encourages the user to gently draw the abdominal wall towards the spine while breathing normally. This builds the endurance of deep abdominal muscles and helps to improve lumbar spinal stability. If done correctly, it can prevent pain.

‘The hollowing manoeuvre can be done almost anywhere without other people noticing – but it needs to be done often. With increasingly hectic lives, people find it difficult or impossible to remember to perform the manoeuvre without an aid,’ Kamyab said.

‘The Orthominder looks like a belt, and can be worn anywhere – in the office or while the user is out with friends. It gently vibrates to remind the user when it’s time to do the exercise, and then measures if it’s being done correctly. It gives the user much more control by helping them measure their own progress as part of their daily routine.’

As a bonus, users may find that using the device leads to a reduction in waistline due to improvement in muscle tone.

Low back pain has become widespread with the NHS spending around half a billion pounds each year on the problem. Kamyab and colleagues are now working with Strathclyde’s entrepreneurial network to take the project forward. It is hoped with commercial support, the device could become available over the counter at retail chemists and through doctors and physiotherapists.