Introduction to Wearable Sensors
In the realm of biomechanical analysis, wearable technology utilizes sensors that continuously monitor and feedback on real-time data collected from the wearer’s body. This includes body movements, physiological signals, and environmental factors, with the most commonly measured data including heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature, as well as blood oxygen saturation and posture. In more advanced cases, wearables can monitor an even wider range of data points.
The development of wearable sensors is significant due to the fact that it enables non-invasive, continuous monitoring of human movement. This generates data that can lead to enhanced understanding, diagnostics, and interventions. Within the medical field, this has been hailed as an innovative solution to healthcare problems, allowing professionals to not only maintain health and prevent disease, but also optimize it. From athletes who yearn for hard data to improve their training and recovery to supporting the aging population by measuring gait data for fall prevention, wearables have the potential to drastically improve the general population’s health, improve the quality of patient care while reducing the cost, and enabling patient rehabilitation outside of hospitals.
Types of Wearable Sensors
Inertial Measurement Units (IMUs)
Inertial Measurement Units (IMUs)
IMU stands for Inertial Measurement Unit, and it is a device that combines several sensors, typically accelerometers, gyroscopes, and magnetometers, to enable the measurement of motion, orientation, and posture of an object in three-dimensional space. Let’s take a closer look at each component and their functionalities.
By combining the measurements from accelerometers, gyroscopes, and magnetometers, the IMU can provide a complete picture of an object’s motion and orientation in real-time. These IMUs are widely used in various fields, including consumer electronics, aerospace, robotics, virtual reality, and navigation, where precise motion tracking and orientation information are critical for accurate performance and functionality.
Electrogoniometers are wearable sensors designed to measure joint angles in biomechanical analysis. They play a crucial role in capturing and analyzing joint movement data, providing valuable insights into human motion and facilitating various biomechanical studies.
Force sensors, such as pressure-sensitive insoles and instrumented treadmills, are valuable tools used in biomechanics and gait analysis to measure ground reaction forces (GRFs) and quantify biomechanical variables during weight-bearing activities like walking, running, and other movements. These sensors provide crucial data for understanding human movement, gait patterns, and diagnosing various gait-related disorders.
Electromyography (EMG) Sensors
Electromyography (EMG) Sensors
Electromyography (EMG) sensors are invaluable tools used to capture and analyze muscle activation patterns during movement. EMG is a technique that measures the electrical activity produced by muscles as they contract and relax. By placing EMG sensors on the skin surface or directly into the muscle, researchers and clinicians can gain insights into muscle function, coordination, and imbalances during various movements.
Biomechanical Analysis with Wearable Sensors
Gait AnalysisWearable sensors enable detailed gait analysis by measuring parameters such as stride length, cadence, joint angles, and ground reaction forces. Click on the image below to find out how wearable sensors improve gate analysis
Walking is one of the most common activities we perform on a daily basis, and by continuously monitoring this, the data can be used to monitor overall health due to the intensive involvement of the central nervous system in controlling limb movements and posture control. Impaired walking often results from degenerative pathologies, musculoskeletal disorders, injuries, and neurological damage. Currently, complete gait analysis can only be performed in some hospitals on a small number of patients, however wearable technology has the potential to make the practice more widespread to facilitate diagnostics, rehabilitation, and performance optimization.
Sports PerformanceCurrent wearable sensors within the sports performance realm rely on traditional metrics to analyze sports-specific movements, such as running, jumping, and throwing to aid in the assessment of technique, biomechanical efficiency, and injury risk. Click on the image to find out more about wearable sensors in sports performance
Experts say that the next phase in this development is to implement wearable biosensors that measure analytes from eccrine sweat to assess the performance and mental acuity of the athlete. Heart Rate Variability (HRV), galvanic skin response, and biomarkers measured from eccrine sweat can also measure stress on the athlete. Ultimately, athletes can utilize the data gathered by wearables to inform smarter training plans that include adequate rest and recovery to better prevent injury, and gain an understanding of how form has an impact on stress levels on various parts of the body.
Posture and ergonomicsIn addition to traditional athletes, ‘industrial athletes’ also need to be considered; those that work in industry and engage in repetitive motion tasks for example in manufacturing, warehousing, logistics and other service industries. Click on the image below to find out more about posture and ergonomics.
Posture and ergonomics
There is often an overlap between the issues that the industrial athlete experiences and the ones that are experienced by more traditional sports athletes. In both of these situations, wearable technology can assess posture and body mechanics, for example during lifting of heavy items, to establish how this is undertaken has an impact on bodily stress and joint pressure. This can then be remedied and prevent the onset of musculoskeletal disorders. Similarly, in professions where there is less physical activity, for example, office work, assessment of posture while sitting can be measured by wearable technology to inform ergonomic office design such as supportive chairs that reinforce correct posture. Within the field of occupational health, there is great scope for wearable technology to reduce workplace injury and even prevent the onset of issues that plague workers.
Rehabilitation and movement disordersWearable technology can be applied to rehabilitating injuries and movement disorders, in both neurological and orthopedic rehabilitation. Click on the image below to find out more.
Rehabilitation and movement disorders
Wearable technology can be applied to rehabilitating injuries and movement disorders, in both neurological and orthopedic rehabilitation. These interventions facilitate motor learning by leveraging repetitive, progressive, and task-specific motor practice and monitoring the body’s adaptation and experience of this. The sensors can enable measurement of body orientation, motion, direction, and physiological state during movement in these settings, providing real-time feedback that allows clinicians to monitor patient progress and guide future activities. This can assist in working with conditions such as stroke and Parkinson’s disease, as well as orthopedic injuries.