A novel haptic device to test the efficacy of musical vibroacupuncture in pain relief

  • Augusto Weber

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The motivation behind this PhD was to use the concept of vibrotactile music applied to acupoints and test its effects on pain relief. The contribution of multiple and simultaneous vibrational frequencies (vibrochords) to stimulating acupoints has received little attention in the field.

The thesis involved three phases: The first was to validate the technique of multiple frequencies in healthy participants using the cold pressor test as a pain model. The second was to design and develop a new voice coil actuator with a greater magnitude of stimulus and a more balanced response at multiple frequencies than the previous version. The third phase tested and compared the efficacy of the revised actuator against the original one in healthy participants with musculoskeletal soreness provoked by recent sports activity.

The study did not focus on the cognitive aspect of music; instead, the purpose is to use a non-cognitive approach using vibration according to musical harmony to stimulate a composite of acupoints due to their pain-relieving qualities. The prototype device developed for the study allows primary melodic intervals, such as the octave and fifth, to influence the body through voice coil actuators attached to the skin. The study confirms that a combination of frequencies leads to increased tolerance pain levels compared to a single frequency and sham group, which was statistically significant, demonstrated by the cold pressor test.

The second aim was to design and validate a more powerful vibration actuator with a flatter response at multiple frequencies. This aim was carried out in response to exposed limitations from the original actuator, especially regarding the stimulus's intensity and an unbalance at multiple frequencies. Thus, the second study focused on providing a detailed physical description of the musical haptic device used in previous studies and the design and validation of a custom-built vibration actuator. These aspects are described in more detail, and novel data is presented in an improved actuator plus test trials against the original model. An accelerometer was utilised to measure the acceleration RMS values for each actuator at 32, 48, and 64 Hz to evaluate the correlation between the original and revised actuators. The force, magnetic field strength, and magnetic field interaction were computed for both actuators. Results from the test trials indicate that the new actuator provides a more potent stimulus and more balanced response across all frequencies compared to the original actuator.

Finally, the third stage of the study tested and compared the efficacy of the new actuators against the initial prototype in a population of healthy individuals with recent musculoskeletal soreness provoked by sports activity. To attain this goal, an experimental randomised and controlled trial in collaboration with the University of Brighton and the Medical and Research Acupuncture clinic was conducted. After obtaining informed consent, each participant was asked to perform three procedures: multiple frequencies on a combination of acupoints, a single frequency on the same points, and a sham procedure, which was considered the control group. The results demonstrated that the revised actuator presents a better pain relief effect than the original actuator in participants with recent musculoskeletal pain.

Date of AwardJun 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorSimon Busbridge (Supervisor) & Ricardo Governo (Supervisor)

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