Dutch researchers have developed a system they say could help people learn to walk and balance sooner after an injury or stroke by displaying a virtual image of their body and moving muscles on a screen in real time.
The digital imaging system allows doctors and physical therapists to peer into a person's body, highlighting which muscles are flexing as they move.
"It's like we're stripping off the skin and helping the doctor to see more clearly than they have before," said Michiel Westermann, chief executive of Motek Medical, a Dutch company which designed the system.
Using infrared strobe lights and eight cameras, the system tracks movements of individuals wearing reflective suits as they exercise. Muscle movements, monitored by reflectors on the suit, are shown within a virtual body double projected on a screen.
The researchers say the immediate visualization of muscle forces could help speed up rehabilitation of patients learning how to walk and balance again, such as stroke sufferers, amputees or people recovering from an injury.
Athletes could benefit from the system for technique training and injury prevention.
"Usually when patients are requested to activate a muscle, they will have a problem to understand which muscle, and the therapist will have a problem verifying the patient understood. With this they have immediate feedback," said Westermann.
The system is being tested in hospitals this year and should be ready for use at the start of 2010, Westermann said.