Volgenau School of Engineering
George Mason University
George Mason University Mason
George Mason University

Engineering students’ system helps restore mobility to frozen shoulders

May 7, 2019   /   by Nanci Hellmich

Five systems engineering seniors developed a system, which includes a wearable device connected to an app, to help patients with frozen shoulder syndrome. Pictured here, left to right back row: Faisal Alharbi, Blaine Lacey, Emmanuel Kwakye-Dompreh. Front row: Will Calaman and Farzad Nikpanjeh.

“This project showcases the power of engineering to improve the quality of life of patients.”

— Lance Sherry, associate professor in systems engineering and operations research.

Five Mason Engineering students have created a system to help patients with frozen shoulder syndrome.

The senior design team's wearable device, which is connected to an app, increases the likelihood that patients will stick with prescribed rehabilitation exercises and improve their quality of life.

“We identified a specific problem for one condition and focused on fixing an aspect that will help a lot of people,” says team leader Farzad Nikpanjeh, a senior in the Department of Systems Engineering and Operations Research (SEOR).

The group received an Outstanding Project Award at the Volgenau School of Engineering’s Undergraduate Research Celebration, as well as a chance to present their project to the Dean’s Advisory Board. They also finished third at the Patriot Pitch competition.

“This project showcases the power of engineering to improve the quality of life of patients,” says faculty advisor Lance Sherry, an associate professor in systems engineering and operations research.

Frozen shoulder syndrome, a condition characterized by stiffness and pain in the shoulder joint, is most common among people ages 40 to 70, especially women. Health care providers prescribe exercises for patients to do at home between physical therapy sessions, but many patients do not comply, says systems engineering senior Will Calaman.

The group devised a system that includes a wearable device that patients put on their upper arm, just above the elbow, to monitor their maximum range of motion and their compliance with their rehabilitation exercises.

The device is connected to an app, which gives the patients directions on how to do the activities and tracks what they have done.

This data can be sent to patients’ health care providers to determine how much progress their patients have made and what exercise they have performed. Based on that information, providers may modify the program.

In theory, the system could save patients money by shortening their recovery time, and getting them back to work sooner, says systems engineering senior Blaine Lacey, an Honors College student. It also could be adapted for rehabilitation exercises for other health conditions.

The seniors tested their system on patients with frozen shoulder syndrome, revising it several times to improve user performance, Calaman says.

Lacey says this was especially important “because we were creating an app, an autonomous device with no human-to-human experience.”

Nikpanjeh says he underestimated how valuable user testing was. “It was a huge eye-opener. You build the system, and you think it’s perfect and makes sense, but people use it in the opposite way you imagined.”

“Engineering solutions for real-world problems are hard, hard work,” Sherry says. “When the students were done designing and implementing, they were not done as engineers. They still had to do the testing to make sure patients could use the app and wear the device.”

The students are considering their options to commercialize the product, he says. “If not, they will pass the project on to the next generation of systems engineering students who can continue the long tradition at Mason Engineering to make the world a better place.”

Other team members: Emmanuel Kwakye-Dompreh and Faisal Alharbi

“We identified a specific problem for one condition and focused on fixing an aspect that will help a lot of people.”

— Farzad Nikpanjeh, systems engineering senior