‘Smart socks’ offer hope for remote patients with chronic pain, researcher says
New wearable “smart sock” technology could help physiotherapists treat regional and remote patients and get them back on their feet.
The unique socks are embedded with movement and pressure sensors, which provide real-time feedback on how the patient is moving during exercises like squats and jumps.
The creator, University of Melbourne PhD candidate Deepti Aggarwal, said she developed the smart socks as way of helping patients who struggle to travel to appointments.
She said the technology could help physios assess and treat patients and could provide an alternative to face-to-face care for rural patients or those with mobility issues.
“Especially with long-term conditions like chronic pain, it is very difficult for the patient to come in for a face-to-face visit every time,” Ms Aggarwal said.
Ms Aggarwal and her colleagues from Melbourne University have now trialled the technology on three patients suffering from chronic pain at the Royal Children Hospital.
One of the trial’s participants, Poppy Lange, has been suffering from debilitating chronic pain since she injured her knee running four years ago.
The 18-year-old has spent almost all that time on crutches, but said the smart socks had made a big difference to her life.
“Being able to walk as most people take for granted, but it’s a key part of being able to go to Uni, go to work and get to school every day,” Ms Lange said.
“Physio allowed me to do that, which obviously allowed me to get on with the rest of my life.”
Physiotherapist Mark Bradford said the smart socks provided both physios and patients with information they would not otherwise get during video consultations.
“What might look to be normal might not necessarily be that way,” Mr Bradford said.
“This shows exactly what’s happening.”
Mr Bradford said the technology’s visual depiction of movement and weight distribution allows patients to monitor their own progress and encourages them to continue with their rehabilitation.
“Putting your foot down on the ground is a really important step in recovery,” he said.
Ms Lange said seeing her own improvement was important because it gave her hope and inspiration when recovery was slow and incremental.
“It’s really important to see those improvements purely for your mental health to keep going and pushing through the pain,” she said.
Costing about $300 to make, the smart socks are not yet being sold commercially, but Ms Aggarwal said she hoped the technology would become part of common clinical practice.
“The idea is that physiotherapists will have a couple of face-to-face sessions, so they know how the patient is doing and what are the current issues with the patient and then they can have a couple of video consultations,” she said.