MuscleRehab Provides an Inside Look at What Your Muscles Do During Physiotherapy and More

Combining virtual reality, optical tracking, and wearable sensors, MuscleRehab provides a detailed look at exactly what your muscles do.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Massachusetts General Hospital, and Northeastern University have showcased a combination of wearable sensor system and optical tracking which allows a computer system to see what a patient's muscles are doing during physical therapy or exercise — as a three-dimensional view "inside" the body.

"We wanted our sensing scenario to not be limited to a clinical setting, to better enable data-driven unsupervised rehabilitation for athletes in injury recovery, patients currently in physical therapy, or those with physical limiting ailments, to ultimately see if we can assist with not only recovery, but perhaps prevention," explains MIT student and lead author Junyi Zhu of the idea behind the MuscleRehab system. "By actively measuring deep muscle engagement, we can observe if the data is abnormal compared to a patient's baseline, to provide insight into the potential muscle trajectory."

MuscleRehab combines optical tracking, virtual reality, and wearable sensors to visualize muscles as they move. (📹: Zhu et al/MIT CSAIL)

MuscleRehab is a two-part sensing system combining wearable electrical impedence tomography (EIT) sensors and an optical motion tracker, which combines to provide information on the user's movement and muscle engagement. These data are combined to create what the team calls a "virtual muscle-skeleton avatar" — a three-dimensional visualization that mimics the user's movement while providing a view of exactly what's happening with their muscles as they move.

"We conducted a user study with 10 participants that compares exercise execution while seeing muscle + motion data vs. motion data only," the team explains, "and also presented the recorded data to a group of physical therapists for post-rehabilitation analysis. The results indicate that monitoring and visualizing muscle engagement can improve both the therapeutic exercise accuracy during rehabilitation, and post-rehabilitation evaluation for physical therapists."

The team is looking at applications outside physiotherapy, too, including work with medical physicist Piotr Zygmanski to see if the EIT system alone could prove useful during radiotherapy. "We are exploring utilization of electrical fields and currents for detection of radiation as well as for imaging of the of dielectric properties of patient anatomy during radiotherapy treatment, or as a result of the treatment," Zygmanski explains.

"Radiation induces currents inside tissues and cells and other media — for instance, detectors — in addition to making direct damage at the molecular level (DNA damage). We have found the EIT instrumentation developed by the MIT team to be particularly suitable for exploring such novel applications of EIT in radiotherapy. We are hoping that with the customization of the electronic parameters of the EIT system we can achieve these goals."

The team's work was published in the Proceedings of the 35th Annual ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology (UIST '22), with additional information and an open-access copy of the paper available on the project web page.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire:
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