Researchers in Spain have announced a new medical device worn like a belt that vibrates when the wearer slumps, and collects precise clinical data to help spine doctors fine-tune rehabilitation assessments and therapies.

For people with chronic back pain, a new biofeedback and imaging device may deliver better diagnostic results by as early as next year.

The makers of Lumbia promise their new device will deliver more exact neuromuscular data to improve back pain treatments used by orthopedic and physical therapists.

Developed through a partnership between Spanish companies Tecnalia Research Centre and the FIK Initiative, Lumbia will be made available to specialists worldwide in 2014 by Italian biotech marketing company BTS Bioengineering.

“Lumbia provides more information to the doctor about the fatigability of the muscles as well as the relaxation capacities of the patient,” Tecnalia research director Haritz Zabaleta said in an interview with Healthline.

The prescribed physical therapy for back pain remains the same, but the biofeedback can speed up the rehabilitative process.

During a clinical assessment, the patient wearing the belt performs exercises while the device sends data wirelessly to the therapist’s computer. Zabaleta said this information can improve diagnosis and prognosis, and monitor the progress of patients being treated for low back pain.

The belt contains a set of wireless sensors and activators connected to a host computer. Data from the oblique, latissimus dorsi, and spinae muscles are collected and stored in the Lumbia software, which creates images for physicians and patients.

“The belt has sensors that detect tiny electrical signals from contracting muscles in the low back, using electromyogram (s-EMG) technology,” Zabaleta said. The signals can be analyzed to determine abnormalities in muscle function and movement.

Using a biofeedback system similar to new sports performance and movement training technologies, Lumbia vibrates when the patient does a therapy exercise incorrectly. This prompts the patient to correct the movement, which helps them more successfully strengthen, lengthen, and align muscles in the lower back.

Lumbia records complex measurements of muscle fatigue, activation levels, relaxation parameters, and asymmetry and synergies within muscle groups.

The company claims that Lumbia allows therapists to analyze the biomechanics of movement pertaining to low back pain in ways that haven’t been possible before.

“Complicated signal processing techniques are needed to measure and extract features from the signal,” Zabaleta said. “It’s a good way to monitor a patient’s evolution in order to know the right moment to change therapy or increase training.”

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), lumbago, or low back pain, is the most common cause of job-related disability in the U.S., with medical costs of up to $50 billion each year. It is also a leading contributor to missed work.

Our bodies are built to move and yet many of us spend most of our waking hours sitting stationary in front of computer. Studies since the 1980s have confirmed that sedentary work habits can contribute to back problems. And as we age, the spine is more prone to injury.

NIH suggests 30 minutes of low-impact exercise each day, such as walking, biking, or swimming—especially after periods of prolonged inactivity. Yoga can help stretch and strengthen muscles and improve posture. Your doctor can suggest exercise regimens that are appropriate for your age. And practicing good posture and using adequate lumbar support can help in maintaining a healthy lower back.

When low back pain strikes, early intervention is important. Promising orthopedic tools like Lumbia may help in regaining the targeted muscle strength our lower backs need to stay healthy.