Smartphones to monitor and understand the burden of low back pain


University researchers in Zurich are collaborating with the medical device industry to connect to thousands of Swiss people with low back pain via their smartphones. The idea is to improve understanding of low back pain and to develop new solutions for therapy and prevention using mobile health technologies.

Portrait / project description (ongoing research project)

An engaging mHealth app will enable people to assess and document their low back pain. This will allow us to collect important data from a large group of volunteers – so-called citizen scientists – that will tell us how frequently low back pain occurs and also shed light on people’s individual experience of low back pain. We will then develop new experimental strategies to test different methods of preventing or reducing low back pain, such as physiotherapy, education and mobile games for health. Doctors working with small groups of app users will then evaluate these methods for effectiveness. In addition to determining which treatments work and why, we will also investigate how to select the most suitable method for each user based on his or her personal life situation.


Low back pain affects almost all individuals in Switzerland at least once at some point in their lives. It is a complex illness whose cause is not fully understood. Costly surgery is undesirable, but the variable nature of the illness makes it challenging for doctors to find effective treatment. A key step in solving the problem is to monitor the behaviour of many individuals during episodes of low back pain. Digital technologies such as smartphones, wearable sensors and the internet make this approach possible.


The objective of the project is to use novel mobile health (mHealth) tools for identifying changes in low back pain among people in Switzerland. We will develop software models for personalizing ways to prevent low back pain using a large set of data recorded with smartphone apps from many people with and without low back pain at home and in the clinic. We will also introduce novel strategies for making health data meaningful, developing analysis software and handling this sensitive health data.


This project will provide doctors with new mHealth technologies to track progress and enhance understanding of low back pain. Data scientists working with health data will benefit from new software that simplifies data collection, ensures high quality and provides accurate analysis. Finally, society and the public will benefit from useful health recommendations delivered through smartphones as well as novel ways to share their personal health information with doctors and researchers privately.

Original title

Personalized management of low back pain with mHealth: Big Data opportunities, challenges and solutions

Project leader

Professor Walter Karlen, Institute of Biomedical Engineering, Ulm University



Further information on this content


Professor Walter Karlen Institute of Biomedical Engineering Ulm University Albert-Einstein-Allee 45 89081 Ulm Germany

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