Patients with head and neck cancer frequently require surgical removal of lymph nodes from the neck. While this is necessary, it can cause pain and stiffness that can persist for a long time after surgery. Assessing neck mobility of such patients would be useful, as it would allow doctors to identify deficits in range of motion, and design appropriate strategies to help improve them.
However, current techniques to achieve this are somewhat crude and do not produce quantifiable data, or involve equipment that is not easily portable or easy to use, making routine clinical assessments challenging.
Researchers at Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science have now developed a portable robotic neck brace that can measure neck mobility in patients who have undergone treatment for head and neck cancer. The device uses 3D-printed parts and simple sensors to measure neck and head movement, and could help clinicians to understand the impact of surgical interventions and help them design a treatment regimen to improve neck mobility.The device is portable and easy to use, making it more accessible for routine use.
“This is the first study of this kind where a wearable robotic neck brace has been designed to characterize the full head and neck range of motion,” said Sunil Agrawal, a researcher involved in the study.
The new brace is based on a similar design that the researchers used to measure neck movements in patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. So far, the team tested the new brace in five cancer patients and used it, along with measurements of muscle electrical activity in the neck, to test neck mobility before and after surgery to remove lymph nodes from the neck.
“Use of the sensing neck brace allows a surgeon to screen patients postoperatively for movement difficulty, quantify their degree of impairment, and select patients for physical therapy and rehabilitation,” said Scott Troob, another researcher involved in the study. “Patients consistently identify need for rehabilitation and guided exercises after surgery as an unmet need in their medical care. This work will lay the foundation for the appropriate identification of patients for intervention. We additionally hope that through using the neck brace, we will be able to objectively quantify their improvement and develop evidence-based rehabilitative programs.”
Study in journal Wearable Technologies: A novel neck brace to characterize neck mobility impairments following neck dissection in head and neck cancer patients