Robot unlocking the secrets to balance problems
Researchers at the University of British Columbia are looking for new ways to treat patients with balance disorders. Dr. Jean-Sébastien Blouin DC, PhD, Canadian Chiropractic Research Foundation Professor in Spine Biomechanics and Human Neurophysiology is leading the charge to try and develop further evidence that may later lead to better evaluation tools or even therapies for individuals who suffer from balance deficits.
Dr. Blouin wants to learn more about how people maintain standing balance which essentially means how do we sense where our feet our with respect to our head and the rest of the body during standing and walking postures. Each day we walk, move our head from side to side and never give a second thought to the mechanisms at play that keep us upright. It may sound simple enough but to those suffering from imbalance issues, even simple tasks can be extremely difficult.
At the core of their research is a standing balance robot, designed by Dr. Blouin and researchers at UBC’s CARIS Lab. An individual is strapped into the machine in the standing position and two motors, one controlling head and neck function and another controlling movement for the rest of the body, can be manipulated to gauge the body’s reaction to changes. These reactions are carefully studied by Dr. Blouin and the team who are trying to determine how the body re-orients itself and the relationship to balance in healthy people.
Dr. Blouin says that once we understand the mechanisms by which healthy people adapt in the standing balance machine, this information can be applied to patients with balance problems. The data can establish a benchmark of optimal function that can be used to assess the reaction in balance deficient people. Even later down the road, this information could even be used to formulate new rehabilitation strategies or treatments.
The neck muscles are also extremely important to standing balance says Dr. Blouin. Information from the neck muscles, joints and nerves is needed to determine our relationship with our heads and the rest of our body, a crucial part of standing balance. This is where the chiropractic perspective comes into play. As experts in musculoskeletal health, chiropractic doctors have a firm background that may assist in better understanding these types of relationships and how they impact our day to day lives.