This perspective article will discuss the potential role of body-worn movement monitors for balance and gait assessment and treatment in rehabilitation. Recent advances in inexpensive, wireless sensor technology and smart devices are resulting in an explosion of miniature, portable sensors that can quickly and accurately quantify body motion. Practical and useful movement monitoring systems are now becoming available. It is critical that therapists understand the potential advantages and limitations of such emerging technology. One important advantage of obtaining objective measures of balance and gait from body-worn sensors is impairment-level metrics characterizing how and why functional performance of balance and gait activities are impaired. Therapy can then be focused on the specific physiological reasons for difficulty in walking or balancing during specific tasks. A second advantage of using technology to measure balance and gait behavior is the increased sensitivity of the balance and gait measures to document mild disability and change with rehabilitation. A third advantage of measuring movement, such as postural sway and gait characteristics, with body-worn sensors is the opportunity for immediate biofeedback provided to patients that can focus attention and enhance performance. In the future, body-worn sensors may allow therapists to perform telerehabilitation to monitor compliance with home exercise programs and the quality of their natural mobility in the community.
Therapists need technological systems that are quick to use and provide actionable information and useful reports for their patients and referring physicians. Therapists should look for systems that provide measures that have been validated with respect to gold standard accuracy and to clinically relevant outcomes such as fall risk and severity of disability.