While the health industry continues to bring extraordinary advancements, we are still looking for smart ways to keep our bodies healthy, moving, and functional even as we age. Naturally, there are emerging technologies that are helping us to move better, and they are also allowing orthopedic surgeons more options when it comes to restoring your mobility function and movement.

As a mobility and aging expert, I love to talk about how technology can help us move more efficiently. Moving is the best thing that we can do for ourselves as it improves our brain function, longevity, happiness, and overall outlook on life. So when we experience limited mobility, or inefficient movement creates problems, it can be extremely frustrating.

Because of new and emerging technological capabilities, there are more ways that we can do this. And as a collective, we can apply these technologies in our daily life to keep moving.

Precision Movement vs Mobility Efficiency

So what does it mean when we talk about movement efficiency?

As it relates to physical activity or human movement, moving efficiency boils down to a concept commonly used in healthy aging research; it’s called optimal mobility(opens in a new tab). Optimal mobility refers to moving when we went, where we want, and how we want to. Often, this concept is important when we consider mobility disabilities. If a basic function like walking is inhibited, then we can’t move as well as we would want. Instead, we might have to rely on external support, like a caregiver or assisted technology.

Movement efficiency might also refer to precision movement in athletics. Athletes focus on moving as efficiently as possible in order to improve performance. In similar concepts, measuring precise movements help improve one’s gait, their musculoskeletal structure, and well-being, but precision movement is not always always something that we look for when we talk about mobility technologies.

Movement studies also need to consider a range of other factors. For the most part, our biomechanics come from a mixture of genetics and environmental learning. If there is a bone impediment in your hip, then your body will naturally compensate for its movement in order to manage that impediment. Those types of inefficiencies are best addressed with orthopedic modifications or physical modalities.

Other types of physical inefficiencies might come from learning a behavior wrong. If you’ve only learned how to throw a baseball using a side-arm, then for me as a sports doctor, I know that the chances of you experiencing a torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) and needing Tommy John surgery are higher simply because you’ve been overstressing that ligament longer than other individuals have.

What’s important about physical efficiency is the amount that you do it and how important it is to your lifestyle. If you learned how to throw a baseball side-arm, but you’re never going to be a World Series pitcher, then that might not matter as much. But if the pain in your elbow affects you in other aspects of your life, then you’ll want to consider rehabilitation for that pain and to relearn how to properly move your arm so that you don’t experience pain.

Moving efficiency also shouldn’t be dependent on pain, but often that’s how we know that something needs fixing.

Emerging Technologies For Moving

As a society, we are well aware of the high sedentary behavior rates due to the 9-5 work lifestyle. Obesity rates are skyrocketing as well, and researchers are continuing to develop behavior change models to get us active.

So while technology has made sedentary behaviors more prevalent, we also have access to more autonomy in terms of our daily schedules. We technically don’t need technology to get us moving more often; however, it does help. Reminder apps of all sorts encourage us to get up and out of our desks, move around a bit, and do a little bit of exercise every hour during our day. Fitness watches are also on the lookout for us, reminding us to get moving more often.

When it comes to moving, I often say that there is no right or wrong way to do it(opens in a new tab). Any little bit counts, so if you are thinking about getting up and moving, then it’s a good time to do that. However, there are some things to consider when we look at the biomechanics of how we move.

If you are a runner, for example, and run every other day (and stretch, drink plenty of water, and eat right), what happens if you start to get shin splints?

Certain biomechanical quirks in your body’s makeup or your learned behavior might be making your body move awkwardly and create discomfort. Sometimes you don’t notice these things until you are in pain. Shin splints, a tweak in your neck, and sciatica are perfect examples of common biomechanical impairments that our body is being alerted to.

The Importance of Moving Now to Move More Later

Another key aspect of this talk is the importance of moving now. So let me ask you this question: Can you move now? And will physical inefficiencies inhibit your movement or create issues for you later on?

First and foremost, you need to start moving now in order to keep moving later on. Once you start moving, you can look at how you move and the ways in which your body might be hurting due to physical inefficiencies.

When it comes to moving, let’s consider the following:

  • Moving, in general, is good for your body. Where it becomes a problem is when it starts to hurt you or impair your motor function. This is usually due to biomechanical inefficiencies
  • Some research advancements can help with physical inefficiencies due to structural issues, biomechanical impediments, and more, but they are often hard to access
  • Common technologies like inertial foot pods(opens in a new tab)posture correctors(opens in a new tab), and access to movement coaches(opens in a new tab) can improve efficiencies
  • Other technologies like apps and Pokemon GO simply enable us to move more, therefore encouraging movement, and their technologies can also be applied in orthopedic training settings
  • Mobility issues should not be overlooked. Technological improvements in braces, walkers, and crutches allow individuals to heal from mobility injuries faster and can enable better movement for the chronically disabled.

Moving inefficiency is a multifaceted issue, but technology can help us improve mobility!

Using Technology To Stay Active

Of course, while technology can help us, it can also hinder our movement. And in fact, the development of technologies and sedentary lifestyles absolutely plays a role in this debate.

So we need to use this weapon for the greater good! Standing desks, bicycle desks, and stand-up reminder apps(opens in a new tab) are all common ways that technology can be used not only to help us get moving but to improve our ergonomics in our daily life.

Here are some ways that common technologies might help us in our daily movements:

  • The technology called Stryd(opens in a new tab) uses a foot pod attached to your running shoe to develop a running strategy. This technology can help you run faster and more efficiently and can even detect issues with gait.
  • Posture correctors, like back braces and Upright GO, modify your posture through small, almost imperceptible pulses. Poor posture is one of the leading causes of back pain in America.
  • 3D implants, ones that use organic materials or ones that are custom to your specific knee designs, will allow more people to recover from natural decline or injuries.

While our society increases the amount of technology in our lives, so too do we need to continue to refine our behaviors, improve from a sedentary lifestyle, and use the technological gifts for moving more often and more efficiently.