Restoring balance after stroke
Researcher Jonathan Singer was six weeks into his PhD studies in biomechanics at the University of Waterloo when his supervisor had a stroke and he suddenly “saw first-hand the challenges he was going through.”
“It got me interested in stroke and what I, as a biomechanist, could do about it,” says Dr. Singer, now a post-doctoral researcher in the HSF Canadian Partnership for Stroke Recovery. “People think of stroke as an injury to the brain. But it’s also an injury at the muscle level.”
Working with CPSR-Investigator Dr. George Mochizuki, Dr. Singer is studying issues of balance control in people who have strokes, using what he calls “glorified bathroom scales.”
Blue plates on the floor of a research lab at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre measure not only downward forces applied when standing, but also those applied front to back, and side to side.
“How can you say you are managing spasticity and reducing the risk of falls if you aren’t measuring whether balance is improving?” Dr. Mochizuki says.
Dr. Singer is gathering three-dimensional data and measuring things like symmetry of forces, and the ability of individuals to determine if they are able to use both legs simultaneously.
His goal is to better understand how spasticity – tightness or stiffness in muscles – affects the ability to stand, move and walk.
“Spasticity affects your ability to generate forces and apply them to your environment,” he says. “If we understand the mechanisms, we can target therapies to address these issues.”