“Eighty percent of the people have low back pain at some point; the other 20% are lying about it.”
Dr. Max Jordon was kind of joking when he said that—and kind of not. An assistant professor in the Department of Physical Therapy at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Jordon is an expert in treating lower back pain.
“Chronic low-back pain is the most prevalent disease in the world. It’s the No. 1 cause for disability in this country,” said Jordon who, along with his teaching duties, spends four hours a week in the Pro Bono Physical Therapy clinic offered by University Health Services at UTC.
Currently, Jordon is researching the use of what’s known as dry needling to gather information on lower back pain and how to treat it. Associate Professors Frank Tudini and Matthew Grubb, also in the UTC Department of Physical Therapy, are collaborating with him on the research.
“It’s kind of like acupuncture in that we’re using those small, monofilament needles, inserting them next to the spine, then using a little bit of electricity just to stimulate the muscles,” Jordon explained.
“How does that therapy affect the way that people process pain? We’re trying to put a number to the pain relief that’s a little bit more objective than zero to 10,” he said. “It’s hard for people to really express their pain. Everybody’s sensation of pain is different; everybody’s pain is unique.”
In their paper recently published in the scholarly journal Archives of Rehabilitation Research and Clinical Translation, Jordon and his colleagues reported early results of their dry-needling research.
“Do you need 10 minutes of it? Do you need 15? Do you need 30 minutes of it in order to get an effective treatment?” he explained. “And what we found was that a dosage as low as 10 minutes was enough to give us some pretty good results.”
Jordon also is part of a team that has created the PactBB, a machine-operated platform that measures the muscular control of patients with balance and mobility problems due to chronic low back pain. Data from the platform can be used to treat the physical issues.
Headed by Dr. Erkan Kaplanoglu, associate professor in Engineering Management and Technology and interim department head, the team includes Jordon; Dr. Lynette Carlson, assistant professor and athletic training clinical education coordinator; Dr. Jeremy Bruce, an orthopedic surgeon at Erlanger Hospital; and Dr. Ahad Nasab, interim dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science.
Kaplanoglu said Jordon has worked with him from the start of the PactBB project and played a “crucial role” in it. Along with the technological aspects of the machine itself, the project needed someone with expertise in physical therapy. Jordon fit the bill.
“Besides spine and upper extremity disorders expertise, he has knowledge about robotic rehabilitation. This has played a major role in guiding our engineering studies and in the success of the system. Without him, it was difficult for the project to come to this state,” Kaplanoglu said.
“He worked on what the needs of the patients were and what should be done to improve the system in this regard. He also tested the system on volunteers. He carried out studies proving the suitability and efficiency of the system with the data obtained.”
Unlike general physical therapy practice in which a patient sits on a stationary surface and is asked to perform such movements as sitting up or bending side to side, the PactBB moves instead, Jordon explained.
“If you’re sitting in a car, if you’re on a train, anything like that, you have to adjust to your environment frequently. This provides us a way to measure somebody’s ability to adjust to their environment and their ability to control their posture as they are adjusting to their environment,” Jordon said.
“So this is going to be a way to evaluate patients. It gives us another touchpoint, another data point on how they’re doing.”
He said the PactBB’s technology also enables it to be used for treatment.
“We can get the person to sit on the platform, and we can have the board just kind of change their seating surface, see how they adjust to it,” Jordon said.
“We can measure the muscles’ response while the person is sitting there, and maybe from there we can start to design treatment parameters based on their responses.”
Updates are now being made to the PactBB system toward putting it on the market, Kaplanoglu said.