Japanese AI helps identify causes of chronic lower back pain

Japanese AI helps identify causes of chronic lower back pain

Japanese IT and electronics company NEC Corporation and Tokyo Medical and Dental University have developed an AI-based technology to support individuals possibly dealing with chronic lower back pain by automatically estimating its causes.


Firstly, the digital tool automatically estimates the human skeletal pose structure from an image taken with a smart device. It utilises 2D/3D human pose estimation technology by NEC which can provide “highly accurate” human pose estimation, even from images taken at various angles. 

It then looks at the relationship between body parts, such as the angle between the pelvis and thighs, to evaluate their conditions (for example, if there is insufficient, moderate, or excessive joint flexion). The technology also considers the relationship between body parts and the shape of the back, which conventional technologies cannot do at present, NEC claims. 

It also estimates the cause of the CLBP by using a proprietary abductive reasoning technology to process image and interview data, coupled with medical knowledge fed by TMDU. Developed using a Satisfiability Assessment Problem solver, the abductive reasoning technology enables this rapid estimation within an “average of 10 seconds.”

The technology finally recommends a suitable exercise program (provided by video) to the user according to the presumed cause of their pain.


Last year it was revealed that 29.1% of Japan’s 125 million population is aged 65 and above, with those aged 80 and older accounting for more than one in 10 Japanese people for the first time. The country’s National Institute of Population and Social Security Research has projected its senior population to make up nearly 35% by 2040. 

Given this expectation, the need for technology that helps relieve or prevent the worsening or recurrence of CLBP cannot be overstated, NEC said. The condition has been a leading subjective symptom of illnesses or injuries in Japan, according to a Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare study in 2022. 


Besides AI, virtual reality also holds promise in the treatment of CLBP. The prescription device EaseVRx by United States-based AppliedVR was found to help relieve around 30% of pain in most participants of an evaluation study done by the Food and Drug Administration. This became the basis of the regulatory body to give AppliedVR a De Novo clearance in 2021 to market its VR system. 

NEC and TMDU are now working to verify the effectiveness of their AI tool through testing at NEC care centres sometime this year. There is also a plan to expand the application of the AI to neck and shoulder disorders.

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