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fMRI Compatible Device for Mechanical Stimulus to Back Region

KU research on the brain activity associated with low back pain led to the invention of a simple and cost-effective device that can be used to induce stimulation to a person's back during an fMRI scanning procedure.


Back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide and one of the most common reasons for missed work and doctor's visits. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is a medical imaging technology used to study brain activity in response to pain. To achieve accurate mapping of brain activity, however, the subject's head must remain very still during the procedure. This invention was designed to provide mechanical stimulus to a subject's back in a way that produces the desired results without inducing head movement. It is pneumatically operated and constructed of low-cost materials. Advances in fMRI analysis will continue to enhance observation of the response induced by such a device, resulting in improved understanding and treatment of chronic back pain.


The invention can have applications in a research setting to study pain, as well as a home setting where the patients could use apply intermittent pressure to the back region to get relief from pain. The device can be designed to address neck pain issues as well.


The device incorporates a bladder that is inflated with air at various pressures (approximately 0 to 60 psi) or a piston, causing hemispherical caps to contact and apply the desired amount of stimulus to the subject's back. During the rest period of the scanning procedure, the bladder is deflated to 0 psi. Because the device is located in a cutout within the foam pad of the scanning table, this lowers the caps so that they are no longer in contact with the subject's back. The cycle of rest and stimulus is repeated based on the fMRI protocol.


The key benefits of this device are its economical design, effective mobilization of the spine, its fMRI compatibility, and the simplicity of the design that could make this an effective home product for managing back pain. This fMRI compatibility is based on its ability to induce a range of mechanical stimulus to the back without causing head movement, and its simple design that excludes unsafe and noise-producing materials such as metal and electronic circuitry (instead being powered by pressurized air).


A cost-effective, reliable back stimulation device that is fMRI compatible and that can be applied while the subject is positioned on their back allows clinicians to study pain effectively. Patients will be able to use the device to get relief from pain by lying down on a bed and controlling the pressure as against using tennis balls that are currently prescribed by therapists.


The device can be modified for therapeutic use in a clinical or home setting to deliver spinal mobilization of various grades of movement.

Additional Details


University of Kansas

Intellectual Property Protection

Pending Patent

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