More than 500 million¹ people worldwide suffer from some kind of back pain. Functional Scoliosis is a bizarre condition, and unlike the one caused by hunching at a computer.
Functional Scoliosis is a non-structural deformity² where the spine "appears" to have a curve, but is a result of other ailments in the body involving poor posture.
Personal framework on designing for healthcare³
While interviewing a network of doctors and specialists, my presumptions were broken. Given the complexity, it struck me that there can't be a standardized solution.
Functional Scoliosis is less nuanced, and more approachable in terms of systemic intervention. About 80% of cases are limited to physical therapy.
Approximately 25% of the cases are worsened by poor postural problems⁴.
Non-surgical treatment are primarily prescribed including observation, bracing, and physical therapy.
Depending upon the severity, the surgeries may cost $50,000 to $1,50,000 which makes it inaccessible to many.
Individuals suffer more from social stigma and mental health problems due to lack of a sense of belonging.
The problem is not that of existing solutions, but of adherence to the solutions.
Facts & Figures
Approximately 2-3% of the population worldwide.
Age of Onset
Typically occurs between the ages of 10-15, but can occur at any age.
Females are more likely to develop scoliosis than males (approximately 7:1 ratio).
There are several types of scoliosis, including idiopathic (most common), congenital, neuromuscular, and degenerative.
Scoliosis can range from mild (Cobb angle < 20 degrees) to severe (Cobb angle > 50 degrees).
Approximately 10-20% of cases will progress to the point of requiring treatment, such as bracing or surgery.
Scoliosis can have a significant impact on quality of life, including physical, emotional, and social effects.
The cost of treating scoliosis can be significant, particularly for patients who require surgery or long-term bracing.
Insights & Statistics from expert interviews
This is a dangerous feedback loop triggered by postural issues. It gradually worsens the condition until a consistent sharp pain is realized⁵. It can be countered with frequent physical therapies, but there is also a compliance issue⁶ with it.
A looping flowchart showcasing the progression of the condition
I examined some classic system theories⁷ to identify the right place to intervene. With a lot of variables at play, haptics made the most sense, since they are salient and pervasive.
With a "Goal, Measurement and Action" methodology, I integrated the feedback loop with the problem map. This emerged as my intervention model.
The intervention model featuring the principle feedback loop
Studying the haptic principles⁸ educated me on the context, construction, function, placement and timing considerations. Achieving the right fidelity⁹ involved referencing Arduino documentation¹⁰, and simplifying¹¹ the schematics.
While an accelerometer is ideal, I used a flex sensor along with a vibration motor to build the experience prototype. I carefully tuned the haptic waveform¹² with respect to its sharpness¹³ and composition¹⁴.
Principles, schematics, and code logic representation
Finalizing the Form
I sketched, modeled and 3D printed¹⁵ the container with optimal specifications. The electronic assembly respected the level of granularity¹⁶ desired. The ideal product was rendered that represented its advanced¹⁷, compact, ergonomic, and appealing nature.
A compact version featuring a central module that fits the shape of the back
An assistive technology would require calibration and tracking software. I created the "Scoliomate" app to host four key features:
Calibration — adjusting normal value & haptic strength
Live Tracking — an interactive graph of adherence over time
Analytics — score assignment & detecting sudden movements
Insights Sharing — monitor patient health & suggest improvements with consent
The "Scoliomate" app, hosting four core features
I mapped out the dynamics between data, services and the product. I proposed data encryption with the addition of cloud infrastructure. If allowed, other devices would improve the accuracy and reliability¹⁸ of the ecosystem.
The ecosystem showcasing how the device would improve over time
I had the privilege to present my work before spectators and expert critics¹⁹. A notable remark was that some elements within the app could be simplified. The project proved to be an illuminating journey in systems thinking, prototyping and UX for healthcare.
Presenting the prototype before Mike Aurelio (left) and Alexander Baumgardt (right). *Jorge Arango at the back.
All good things end.