Objective: To assess the utility of a head-mounted wearable inertial motion unit (IMU)-based sensor and 3 proposed measures of postural sway to detect outliers in athletic populations at risk of balance impairments.
Methods: Descriptive statistics are used to define a normative reference range of postural sway (eyes open and eyes closed) in a cross-sectional sample of 347 college students using a wireless head-mounted IMU-based sensor. Three measures of postural sway were derived: linear sway power, eyes closed vs eyes open sway power ratio (Ec/Eo ratio), and weight-bearing asymmetry (L-R ratio), and confidence intervals for these measures were calculated. Questionnaires were used to identify potentially confounding state variables. A prospective study of postural sway changes in 47 professional, college, and high school athletes was then carried out in on-field settings to provide estimates of session-to-session variability and the influence of routine physical activity on sway measures. Finally, pre-post-injury changes in sway are measured for a participant who was diagnosed with a concussion.
Results: Despite the heterogenous population and sampling environments, well-defined confidence intervals were established for all 3 sway measures. Men demonstrated significantly greater sway than women. Two state variables significantly increased sway: the use of nicotine and prescription medications. In the athletes, session-to-session variability and changes due to routine physical activity remained well within 95% confidence intervals defined by the cross-sectional sample for all 3 sway measures. The increase in sway power following a diagnosed concussion was more than an order of magnitude greater than the increases due to session-to-session variability, physical activity, or other participant state variables.
Conclusion: The proposed postural sway measures and head-mounted wearable sensor demonstrate analytic utility for on-field detection of abnormal sway that could be potentially useful when making remove-from-activity and return-to-activity decisions for athletes at risk of impact-induced balance impairments.