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If you’re reading this on your smartphone…

Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University


Almost everywhere you look nowadays, you’re likely to find someone staring down at a smartphone. At RISE, two Northeastern physical therapy students presented their research on how this practice may impact people’s posture—and possibly lead to musculoskeletal disorders.

For their study, Nicholas Ing, BHS’16, and Kelsey Jonas, BHS’17, observed 1,052 college-aged people in a variety of locations in Boston—including cafes, libraries, student centers, and MBTA stations—and recorded which type of device they were using as well as their posture (including neck, spine, hips, shoulder, elbow, forearm, and wrists), and whether they were sitting or standing. The majority of people were using smartphones (63 percent) or laptops (33.6 percent).

They observed that across devices, 83 percent had a flexed neck and 73 percent had a flexed spine. They also noticed that more than half of the people’s wrists were in a cocked, or non-neutral, position. “All of these put together can, over time, affect your body and potentially cause injuries,” Jonas said. She said the study could lead to future research looking into how this will affect people over time as well as potential health interventions.

Meanwhile, two other physical therapy students—Ranjana Kanungo, BHS’16, and Jeffrey Sanschagrin, BHS’17—presented their research focused on improving rehabilitation for patients with chronic ankle instability using a robotic device developed by their faculty advisor, assistant professor Sheng-Che Yen. The students explained that people with chronic ankle instability walk with a more inverted ankle, thereby predisposing themselves to sprains. The robotic device is driven by air muscles and helps the patient safely restore his normal ankle position while walking.

They first tested the device on healthy patients, and the next step would be to test this on patients with chronic ankle instability. They said it would also improve upon a current rehabilitation intervention that utilizes a balance training board. “It’s interesting to see how our profession will change as more robotics become a part of rehab,” Kanungo said.

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