Compartment syndrome is a major concern in cases of extremity trauma, which occur in over 70% of military combat casualty. Without treatment, compartment syndrome can lead to paralysis, loss of limb, or death. This paper focuses on the development of a handheld sensor that can be used for the noninvasive diagnosis of compartment syndrome. Analytical development of the sensing principle is first presented in which a relation is obtained between the pressure in a fluid compartment and the stiffness experienced by a handheld probe pushing on the compartment. Then a handheld sensor that can measure stiffness of an object without requiring the use of any inertial reference is presented. The handheld sensor consists of an array of three miniature force-sensing spring loaded pistons placed together on a probe. The center spring is chosen to be significantly stiffer than the side springs. The ratio of forces between the stiff and soft springs is proportional to the stiffness of the soft object against which the probe is pushed. Small millimeter-sized magnets on the pistons and magnetic field measurement chips are used to measure the forces in the individual pistons. Experimental results are presented using both an in vitro pneumatic test rig and a compliant agarose gel chamber that replicates a fluid pressure compartment. The sensor is shown to measure pressure accurately with a resolution of 0.1 psi over the range 0.75–2.5 psi. The developed sensor has the potential to be useful for convenient handheld diagnosis of compartment syndrome in traumatic extremity injuries.

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