An Examination of Human Gait Patterns with the Help of a Portable Measuring System (IMU)
The ability to walk and stand is a prerequisite for many everyday activities and, therefore, the basis for an independent lifestyle. Although it seems obvious on the surface, it is actually a complex interaction of the central and peripheral nervous systems on the one hand and the musculoskeletal system on the other. It is this apparatus that allows us to move efficiently and to react to changes in our environment (surface conditions, obstacles, etc.) without losing our balance. Depending on age and the severity of a pathology affecting the locomotor system, however, this neuro-motor control may be reduced. In most cases, this is due to a lack in strength and flexibility; something that becomes visible in a reduced pace when walking. Deficits in strength and flexibility do not only increase the risk of falling and sustaining injuries but also can turn normal walking into a physical and cognitive strain that affects quality of life and personal wellbeing.
A recently published review article summarising the results of approximately 85 studies reveals that elderly people, individuals with increased risk for falls or neurological impairments exhibit a high motion variability when walking. Thus, as motion variability is an indicator of pathological movement characteristics, it can be used to identify pathologies early on. It also makes it possible to measure and document the process and the progress of a therapy. In short, motion variability is a measurable parameter that can be used to tailor therapies to the individual needs of patients.
Motion variability in gait patterns, spatiotemporal parameters (double step time, double step length, step length, swing duration, step duration, duration of the double support phase) is usually determined on the basis of information gathered through a system comprising many cameras. However, this is time-consuming and requires a special laboratory with expensive equipment. Hence, there is a demand for cost-efficient and user-friendly alternatives that are easy to finance for health service providers. One such alternative is the inertial measurement unit (IMU) that can be used to carry out gait analysis in the field (in therapy centres or healthcarenon offices). Even though these IMUs generate less data than a traditional gait analysis, they are much easier to use, require less time, and are more cost-effective.
The company VivaBack GmbH (https://www.vivaback.com/) has been developing an IMU-based system since 2016. The current pilot study is aimed at testing whether the system is capable of reliably determining motion variability in gait patterns.
Aims and Methods
Since 2016, VivaBack GmbH has been working on an IMU system that can measure spinal movements throughout the day and quantify them. The goal of this project is to find out whether the IMU of VivaBack is suitable for a new application area: to determine motion variability in gait patterns. The researchers are trying to evaluate
- whether the company’s measuring system can be used to collect spatiotemporal parameters (such as step length, swing duration, step duration, etc.),
- how accurate the measurements are compared to a gold standard (instrumented gait analysis in a gait lab), and
- whether the measurements are suitable to determine motion variability.
In order to verify whether the IMU of the company VivaBack are able to recognise motion variabilities in gait patterns, the data obtained in the pilot study will be compared to the gold standard (measurements from traditional gait analysis) on the one hand and to the results of a recently published review article on the other. If the IMU turns out to be a reliable method, this would allow VivaBack to enter the realm of mobile gait analysis. With a first prototype, it would also be possible to acquire additional project partners and have the chance to further develop the technology. The Orthopaedic Clinic of Medizinische Hochschule Hannover (MHH) at the Annastift, for example, has shown a strong interest and has already carried out the first feasibility tests with the VivaBack sensors. If the upcoming pilot study provides promising results, a follow-up project with VivaBack is to be submitted.