Both Bush and Vocelle, along with Gail Shafer, an assistant professor in the College of Human Medicine, put markers on participants’ hands, which were then monitored by motion capture technology as they went through a series of three-dimensional thumb movements. Differences between healthy and OA-diagnosed patients were observed.
The thumb isn’t usually looked at in isolation with reference to OA, but this research may be changing that.
“Thumbs aren’t just important for people playing the piano or knitting for fun. Almost everything you do on a daily basis involves the thumb in some way, shape, or form,” Bush added.
Forthcoming research from the trio will look at how a six-week thumb exercise protocol impacted the ability to generate forces with the thumb. The researchers observed an increase in thumb strength in just two weeks.
So where could this go next? One avenue would be to develop tools for conducting these three-dimensional measurements in-clinic without the need for laboratory-grade motion capture devices. That would give therapists the ability to not only evaluate more complex movement patterns for earlier diagnosis, but also measure the impact of treatment for better outcomes.
This type of collaboration between research specialties can be difficult to pull off, but Vocelle’s rotations as part of her DO/Ph.D. program presented a meaningful opportunity for integration. The three combined Vocelle’s clinical knowledge, Shafer’s rehabilitation expertise, and Bush’s deep understanding of biomechanics to offer a fresh perspective on a long-standing clinical problem.
Overall, these findings are evidence of the benefits of cross-disciplinary collaboration. As Bush put it: “The diversity and creativity of the group really sparked innovation."