Knee Brace Based on Smart Fluids Set to Revolutionise Physical Rehabilitation

Each year Popular Science magazine surveys the year's most interesting, provocative and promising inventions, and this year an innovative brace by Northeastern University engineering professor Constantinos Mavroidis was honored in the annual 'Best of What's New Issue.

The brace, which was recently profiled in the New York Times, received the award in the Personal Health category. Each year, Popular Science reviews thousands of new products and chooses 100 winners across 12 categories. The winning inventions represent a significant step forward in its category. The issue hits newsstands November 16.

Physical rehabilitation has traditionally consisted of arduously retraining the body on weight machines and other resistance devices, but with the growing interest in “smart fluids,” Mavroidis envisioned a simple brace that can increase the resistance on a healing joint with the turn of a dial.

“ Smart fluids” is a generic term for any particle-filled, oil-based suspension that changes consistence in a magnetic or electric field. Mavroidis is working with electro-rheological fluids (ERFs) which change from liquid to solid the instant an electric field is applied; remove the field and the paste-like substance reverts to liquid form.

The possible applications for ERFs have exploded over the last decade, including automotive technology and industrial uses, and Mavroidis and his co-researchers have already developed prototypes for a leg brace that could increase pressure on a joint simply by increasing the voltage from a small battery. Plans are underway to begin human trials this fall in association with Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston.

The power of smart fluid could transform the rehabilitation process for millions of people. According to the National Health Interview Survey on Assistive Devices, 3.5 million individuals in the United States have used orthotic devices for rehabilitation or mobility assistance. Currently, the most effective types of orthoses consist are often noisy, cumbersome, or difficult to conceal. ERF-powered orthothics, which are efficient and streamlined, would revolutionize rehabilitation therapy.

For more information on rheology, click here.

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