University of Alberta



Characterization of sitting balance

Restoration of sitting balance is a high priority for wheelchair users with neuromuscular impairment due to brain or spinal cord injury. A large number of wheelchair users are unable to control their sitting balance due to incomplete tetraplegia and are likely to fall in response to sitting perturbations, such as hitting a bump. This increased risk and fear of falling limits their agility and autonomy in daily activities. The objective of this project is to assess, evaluate, and improve sitting stability during sitting or wheeling on a wheelchair by means of assistive technologies

Investigator/Contact person: Drs. Hossein Rouhani and Albert Vette

Trainees: Kshitij Agarwal, Alireza Noamani, Andrew Williams 


In-field assessment of gait biomechanics and risk of falling

Assessment and evaluation of human gait has been used for outcome evaluation of several orthopedic and neurological conditions. Although human motion can be measured in motion measurement labs, participants may not act as naturally as in their home. Wearable sensor technology is an ideal means for motion measurement out of laboratories. The first objective of this project is to develop wearable technologies to in-field assessment of gait biomechanics. At the same time, although a majority of falls occurs during locomotion, there is no proven biomarker for the risk of falling during walking for a large variety of clinical conditions. The second objective of this project is to characterize risk of falling during walking using wearable technologies. The clinical studies related to this project are conducted at Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, and Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital, and Institut de Readaptation Gingras Lindsay de Montreal.

Investigator/Contact person: Dr. Hossein Rouhani

Trainees: Alireza Noamani, Hosein Bahari, Jean-Francois Lemay


Upper body and arm motion assessment for clinical evaluation of shoulder conditions

The shoulder dysfunction due to neurological injuries can be difficult to quantify with conventional clinical tools. As such, an objective and sensitive outcome measurement tool is urgently needed to guide treatment options and to meaningfully evaluate treatment outcomes. The objective of this study is to develop and test a wearable technology for outcome evaluation of shoulder dysfunction and its effect on the movement of the upper body. The clinical experiments related to this project are conducted at Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital.

Investigator/Contact person: Dr. Hossein Rouhani

Trainees: Milad Nazarahari


Standing balance assessment

Fall-related injuries are associated with morbidity and mortality in the elderly and individuals with neuromuscular control deficits. Fall risk assessment plays an important role in fall prevention strategies. Clinical balance tests are widely used to assess balance during various motor tasks. However, they can be subjective and not sufficiently sensitive for several pathological conditions. The objective of this project is to develop wearable technologies for fall risk and balance assessment in different neurological conditions. The clinical studies related to this project are conducted at Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, and Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital, and Institut de Readaptation Gingras Lindsay de Montreal.

Investigator/Contact person: Dr. Hossein Rouhani

Trainees: Jean-Francois Lemay, Alireza Noamani


Kinematics and kinetics assessment of multi-segment spinal column

Biomechanical assessment of several clinical conditions such as low back pain and spinal cord injury requires the use of multi-segment spinal column models instead of a one-segment model. The ranges of variation of inter-segmental motion and moments measured using such multi-segment models are typically small, and thus minor experimental errors can potentially affect the reliability of these measurements. The objective of this project is to investigate the sensitivity of the 3D intersegmental motion an moments, measured using multi-segment models of spinal column model, to various sources of experimental errors and propose methods to minimize these errors.

Investigator/Contact person: Dr. Hossein Rouhani

Trainees: Alireza Noamani


Neck Strength Evaluation

The goal of this study is to develop an instrumented testing device for neck strength evaluation and develop new training programs with the potential to lessen the incidence of concussion.  Brain injuries are becoming an increasingly prominent issue in sports. This research is aiming to find a way to evaluate neck strength to ensure it is at an acceptable level to help prevent brain injuries.

Investigator/Contact person: Dr. Hossein Rouhani 

Trainees: Jordan Arthur, Milad Nazarahari

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Detection of Muscle fatigue in cycling using surface electromyography

The aim of this project is to investigate the real-time detection, quantification, and prediction of muscle fatigue in cyclists using surface electromyography (EMG).  For this project, our target audience is cyclists, and we are using a bicycle ergometer that we have set up in the lab. In addition to the EMG sensors, we are using muscle oxygen sensors, heart rate sensors, and power output sensors.  MatLab programming language is being used for most of the data analysis in order to create processing algorithms to detect the muscle fatigue.

Investigator/Contact person: Dr. Albert Vette

Trainees: Aiden Kooyman, Kshitij Agarwal



Technologically advanced prostheses have become available for individuals who have experienced upper limb loss, with the goal of restoring upper limb function. These new prosthetic devices cannot only be controlled through thought alone but may also incorporate various forms of sensory feedback. To investigate whether these devices actually aid users in regaining function, we have developed a novel assessment tool that allows the quantification of upper body kinematics. Our assessment requires upper limb prosthesis users to complete highly standardized, functional tasks in a motion capture environment, enabling us to investigate compensatory motion of the upper body due to compromised degrees of freedom. We achieve this by extracting performance measures from angular joint and end-effector kinematics and evaluating their intra- and inter-rater reliability. Since the end goal of this project is to make our assessment clinically available, we are also investigating the minimum technological requirements needed to complete it. This work is part of a larger Hand Proprioception and Touch Interfaces (HAPTIX) program, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). It is being pursued at the Bionic Limbs for Improved Natural Control (BLINC) laboratory at the University of Alberta.

Investigator/Contact person: Drs. Albert Vette and Jacqueline Hebert (BLINC Lab)

Trainees: Aida Valevicius, Heather Williams, Quinn Boser

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Instability of the human trunk is a major challenge for people with neuromuscular disorders as it can lead to loss of independence and secondary health complications. For example, individuals who have experienced spinal cord injury may be affected by some trunk function impairment. Recent developments suggest that neuroprotheses utilizing functional electrical stimulation (FES) may be able to restore trunk stability during sitting. However, advancements to FES-based neuroprotheses require a more comprehensive understanding of the neuromechanics of postural stability in sitting. The overall goal of this project is to obtain a quantitative understanding of the relationship between trunk muscle activity and multi-directional trunk motion during reactive balance control in sitting. Completed work has: (1) quantified temporal and spatial relationships between trunk muscle activity and trunk motion during unstable sitting; (2) characterized the balancing strategy employed during unstable sitting; (3) provided a kinematics-based model to predict trunk muscle activity following multi-directional perturbations during sitting; and (4) quantified the synergistic muscle recruitment patterns employed by the central nervous system during unstable sitting. Future work will use the gained insights in FES applications.

Investigator/Contact person: Dr. Albert Vette

Trainees: Brad Roberts, Andy Williams, Fatemeh Gholibeigian 


Closed loop controlled neuroprosthesis for standing balance (completed)

Functional electrical stimulation (FES) applied to the lower limb muscles can be used as a neuroprosthesis for standing balance in neurologically impaired individuals. Most standing neuroprostheses are pre-programed and cannot maintain standing balance in response to perturbations. The objective of this project was to develop and implement a closed-loop controlled FES system toward maintaining standing balance. First, we developed a model of the physiological control strategy for standing balance, and determined the parameters of a PID controller that mimicked the physiological balance control strategy to stabilize the human body. We implemented this PID controller using a custom-made Inverted Pendulum Standing Apparatus that eliminated the effect of visual and vestibular sensory information on voluntary balance control. Using this setup, the individual-specific FES controllers were successfully tested in able-bodied individuals and compared with disrupted voluntary control conditions for several minutes and in the presence of perturbations.

Contact person: Dr. Hossein Rouhani


Characterization of muscle response to FES (completed)

Modeling the muscle response to functional electrical stimulation (FES) is an essential step in the design of closed-loop controlled neuroprostheses. Muscle’s response to surface FES is nonlinear and time varying because of effects such as muscle fatigues. The objective of this project was to: 1) assess muscle fatigue in response to FES and propose an algorithm to minimize muscle fatigue by optimizing the FES pulse shape, and 2) identify the dynamic response of ankle flexors to FES during quiet standing.

Contact person: Dr. Hossein Rouhani


Kinematics and kinetics assessment of multi-segment foot (completed)

Outcome evaluation of surgical treatments for foot and ankle conditions has been performed via clinical scales based on questionnaires and clinical observations. However, clinical scales are subjective and are not accurate enough to detect subtle alterations in foot function. At the same time, objective outcome evaluation based on gait analysis has been performed in motion measurement laboratories using complex and expensive equipment, which are not available in all clinics. The objective of this project was to design and validate new ambulatory systems for kinematics and kinetics assessment of multi-segment foot during long-distance gait and to apply these systems for objective outcome evaluation of foot and ankle conditions. Novel algorithms were introduced to estimate rotation of foot joints, 3D ground reaction force and kinetics of foot joints (force, moment and power) using ambulatory systems. For this purpose, body-fixed inertial sensors (3D gyroscope ad 3D accelerometer) on shank, hindfoot, forefoot and toes and plantar pressure insole were utilized. These designed ambulatory systems were validated with gold standard reference systems. Then, suitability and efficiency of the developed systems for clinical evaluations were investigated within a clinical study involving several dozen of elderly individuals with different foot and ankle conditions. The developed system has been implemented at the University Hospital of Lausanne, Switzerland.

Contact person: Dr. Hossein Rouhani