Engineers have created a simulator that mimics the mechanical behavior of the human torso. It allows researchers to test different back brace designs and configurations without needing to test them on people, removing significant logistical and ethical issues.
The simulator includes a male torso-shaped mechanical test rig alongside computer simulation models. It includes an artificial 3D-printed spine and rib cage created using modified CAD models derived from computed tomography (CT) scans of a human spine, and a torso with geometries and other properties that closely resemble and behave like human tissues.
The rig also allows for different spine configurations and deformities, such as scoliosis, to be modeled and tested with different back braces without causing discomfort to human testers. The rig can be used to collect data on the reduction of flexion, extension, lateral bending, and torsion that each back brace design provides.
Although human testing of back braces would eventually be required, it will be further down the design process to help optimize comfort and muscle engagement.
Existing back brace designs can often be heavy, overly rigid, indiscrete, and uncomfortable. The simulator enables new back braces to be developed that are optimized to constrain particular motions while allowing for other movements. It could also help with the design of braces and supports with targeted restriction of movement, which would be beneficial to some conditions and help reduce the risk of muscle loss.