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Is Movement the Most Overlooked Component of Health?

Movement, by nature, is a broad and encompassing term. Water runs, streams lap, plants grow – movement is everywhere. Humans have “moved” for centuries; they’ve walked, run, climbed, farmed, and built – there’s the hustle and bustle of city-goers and the quiet walks around the suburban neighborhood. 

These days, movement looks a bit different than it did hundreds of years ago. From office workers to youth athletes to aging seniors, movement can mean many things to different people. The human body is built for movement, but until recently the only real aspects of movement that are quantified for health purposes are step counts and physical activity duration. While those two are related to Movement Health, there is much more to be said about how movement can be both an indicator of health or certain conditions or a measure of progress, and how movement can be better utilized in the evaluation and management of conditions in healthcare.

Movement Health

The term Movement Health captures a broad set of health concerns that are relevant to many different perspectives, including medical practice, physical therapy, sport & exercise, and occupational health & wellness. Some examples include:

  • MSK injury prevention and rehabilitation
  • Balance and mobility improvement
  • Athletic performance optimization
  • MSK pain management
  • Traumatic brain injury diagnosis and recovery management
  • Neurodegenerative disorder diagnosis & treatment

10,000 Steps Doesn’t Address Movement Health

Movement can be seen to represent a physical component of our holistic health state, and as per the World Health Organization’s definition, is an integral part of the human health experience. No matter the population, having the physical capabilities to perform the chosen professional and/or recreational functions, with minimal associated pain, injury and discomfort are central to not only sustaining our livelihoods but also thriving. 

The lack of movement people experience now has become a significant issue. According to the World Health Organization, about 1 in 4 adults does not meet the recommendations for aerobic exercise (1).

While this is a concern, movement encapsulates far more than physical activity and exercise. Clearly, those are beneficial to general health and wellness. In addition to those facets, movement is connected not just to the musculoskeletal system, but to other systems, like the neuromuscular system, the cardiovascular system, and even the integumentary system. For instance, a burn injury can be a limitation for movement; similarly, a stroke or neurodegenerative disease can change or impact movement patterns. Movement Health attempts to move beyond generalized physical activity and exercise recommendations to better address individual movement needs. 

Digitizing Movement Health Providers

Physical therapy clinics, military units, hospital systems, and sports teams are all complex operational systems that provide Movement Health services in the way of assessment, treatment, training, rehabilitation and monitoring. These practitioners and clinicians include everything from Sport Scientists in elite sport and Physical Therapist in tactical settings to Strength and Conditioning Coaches at high schools and Occupational Therapists in independent living facilities. While their specific goals, challenges, and methods may differ, they do all fill a similar role: they are movement health providers. Increasingly, these providers are taking advantage of digital health technologies.

Digital technology has made a huge impact in the management of complex operational systems. Increased access to feasible instrumentation, data collection, data storage, and machine learning capabilities has enabled a new generation of “smart” operational systems that learn from the massive data they produce. Examples of these data-driven operational systems range from industrial manufacturing to eCommerce to media companies such as Netflix and Spotify. These same innovative strategies are beginning to provide significant value in healthcare as well, with machine learning models being developed that can accurately diagnose breast cancer and discover new medications.

Certainly, there are diagnostic tools that have been applied to Movement Health issues that generate data (e.g. x-rays, MRI, ECG, EEG, isokinetic, range-of-motion tests, ‘functional tests’, etc.). But historically, the scale, frequency, and granularity of objective Movement Health data has been a limiting factor in applying this big-data approach that is becoming commonplace across other industries. Tests are typically resource-intensive, done infrequently, and are often limited in that they offer only gross (single metric) or binary (pass/fail) results. 

More recently, however, technologies that have been limited to laboratory studies and elite sports such as wearables, force plates, and motion capture have become more readily available to these organizations. Countless small lab-based academic studies have shown great promise in these technologies to provide accurate and valid data, but their findings have mostly had limited real-world application for those outside of the lab.

Movement Health Intelligence

With these technologies now more accessible, organizations investing in them are starting to generate massive amounts of data that can advance the utilization of Movement Health data to new heights. Innovative organizations are beginning to generate valuable data assets that can be used to better allocate resources, reduce administrative burden, and improve patient care. It can be utilized in the diagnosis of certain conditions, it can serve as a measure of progress through rehabilitation, and it can also be used to track progression of an individual’s movement capabilities or performance. 

Sparta Science’s technology is working to close the gap of knowledge on defining movement health and better understanding its impacts on the body as a whole. Significant opportunity exists to increase movement health provider effectiveness and efficiency, improve individual outcomes, and ultimately provide significant business value for organizations capable of leveraging Movement Health data appropriately.

References:

Bull FC, Al-Ansari SS, Biddle S, et al. World Health Organization 2020 guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviour. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2020;54:1451-1462.