A novel technique that involves measuring very subtle changes in sways or oscillations when in standing posture may eventually improve diagnosis and treatment of neuromuscular disorders.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a degenerative neuromuscular disorder that affects more than 2 million people globally, says National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Although the disease's symptoms, which include lack of coordination and weakness of the legs, can be controlled or delayed, and some treatments show promise, there's no known cure for it yet.

What's worse is that it may not exhibit significant warning signs during the early stages, increasing the delay of diagnosis and treatment.

That, however, may change with the new technique that involves measuring limit cycle oscillations (LCOs), or the postural sway that occurs even after all types of corrections have been exhausted. The instability may be attributed to a neurological impairment or disorder.

In a new study, a team of researchers recruited people who have been diagnosed with MS and athletes who had suffered from concussions. Normally, these injuries are found on players engaged in high-intensity contact sports like football. The researchers also chose healthy individuals to serve as a control group.

All of them were made to stand in a force platform, which was sensitive to any changes to pressure when a person modified his posture.

The data showed a huge difference in LCOs, which happen intermittently, between the diagnosed individuals and the control group.

"The multiple sclerosis patients had mild symptoms, and yet we were able to measure a significant difference compared to healthy controls," said James Chagdes, Miami University assistant professor in mechanical and manufacturing engineering and lead author.

Specifically, LCOs were seen in 67 percent of MS patients and 8 percent among controls. Meanwhile, LCOs were detected in 44 percent and zero percent of concussed and non-concussed athletes, respectively.

The team also successfully identified these LCOs despite the natural fluctuations produced by humans.

The results have increased the optimism of researchers. "The clinical application is especially promising as the assessment takes less than five minutes, requires standard balance equipment and does not require a medical doctor to perform," said Arvind Raman, professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University.

Moreover, the technique may influence the manner in which neuromuscular disorders or deficiencies are detected, as well as may be used to measure the effectiveness of a particular treatment.

Currently, the team is working on building a robotic platform that will be far more sensitive that it may be able to help tell the extent of the condition or the cause of LCO.

The study is now available in Journal of Biomechanics.

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