Author: Molly Heald

Status: Project Concept

The evolution of technology has revolutionized the field of orthopedics, specifically in the case of scoliosis. Surgical treatments have evolved from the hook and rod treatment of the 1950s to the two rod system of the 1970s to the recent innovation of growing rods for children. Similar advances have been made in the structure of the scoliosis brace. Thankfully, the torturous looking turnbuckle cast has evolved to a sleek and less complicated brace that uses two straps to tighten and push the ribcage and hips towards a harder shell on the opposite side of the body. Although the position of the brace itself is not uncomfortable, the hard plastic is not optimal for young children and adolescents to wear day and night. The focal point of this project is to make the back brace as comfortable and effective as possible in order to minimize the child’s discomfort.
This will be accomplished by using fabric or padding as the main material for the brace. Research to determine the best method of accomplishing this while still maintaining the support that the spine needs is still being done. One promising possibility for structural support is the use of a metal exoskeleton. Previously, the plastic braces trapped heat and made sleeping in them very uncomfortable. Phase-changing materials (PCM) for the fabric of the brace could help maintain a comfortable temperature for the child. The PCM can maintain a homeostatic temperature by releasing heat when the body overheats, and absorbing heat when the body is too cold. Another way to regulate temperature is to use AI to monitor the patient’s temperature and use small fans or air vents to maintain a comfortable temperature through a set limit placed by the patient. This same technology would also monitor the brace’s position on the patient’s body, recording any differences in the body that could signal any changes. This new information would then be reported to the orthopedist to decide further action and treatment. A brace called the Robotic Spine Exoskeleton is already being developed by the robotics and rehabilitation lab at Columbia University that is adjustable and flexible for the wearer to use. Although the points of contact between the brace and the body are ideal for an innovative and comfortable back brace, the design is bulky and inconvenient, and appears more like a metal shell around the patient rather than a supportive brace. An ideal brace would be closer to the body and have smaller, thinner metal arms inside of the brace that still maintained its structural integrity without the look of a metal cage. Comfort and aesthetic is especially important for those who wear the brace outside of the home. As of now, this product is a work in progress.
Ideally, the finished product will provide the proper support to prevent the curvature from being more severe, yet will not be unbearably uncomfortable for the children that have to wear it. With this new technology, patient comfort will become more of a priority and reality.

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“An Exoskeleton Spine Brace for Scoliosis.” Roar Lab. IEEE Spectrum, n.d. Web. 27 July 2017.