Measurement of Upper Limb Range of Motion Using Wearable Sensors: A Systematic Review

Sports Med Open. 2018 Nov 29;4(1):53. doi: 10.1186/s40798-018-0167-7.


Background: Wearable sensors are portable measurement tools that are becoming increasingly popular for the measurement of joint angle in the upper limb. With many brands emerging on the market, each with variations in hardware and protocols, evidence to inform selection and application is needed. Therefore, the objectives of this review were related to the use of wearable sensors to calculate upper limb joint angle. We aimed to describe (i) the characteristics of commercial and custom wearable sensors, (ii) the populations for whom researchers have adopted wearable sensors, and (iii) their established psychometric properties.

Methods: A systematic review of literature was undertaken using the following data bases: MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, Web of Science, SPORTDiscus, IEEE, and Scopus. Studies were eligible if they met the following criteria: (i) involved humans and/or robotic devices, (ii) involved the application or simulation of wearable sensors on the upper limb, and (iii) calculated a joint angle.

Results: Of 2191 records identified, 66 met the inclusion criteria. Eight studies compared wearable sensors to a robotic device and 22 studies compared to a motion analysis system. Commercial (n = 13) and custom (n = 7) wearable sensors were identified, each with variations in placement, calibration methods, and fusion algorithms, which were demonstrated to influence accuracy.

Conclusion: Wearable sensors have potential as viable instruments for measurement of joint angle in the upper limb during active movement. Currently, customised application (i.e. calibration and angle calculation methods) is required to achieve sufficient accuracy (error < 5°). Additional research and standardisation is required to guide clinical application.

Trial registration: This systematic review was registered with PROSPERO ( CRD42017059935 ).

Keywords: Inertial movement unit; Joint angle; Kinematics; Motion analysis; Upper limb; Wearable sensor.

Publication types

  • Review