Open Access Highly Accessed Research

ISway: a sensitive, valid and reliable measure of postural control

Martina Mancini12*, Arash Salarian1, Patricia Carlson-Kuhta1, Cris Zampieri3, Laurie King1, Lorenzo Chiari2 and Fay B Horak1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Neurology, School of Medicine, Oregon Health & Science University, 505 NW 185th Avenue, Beaverton, OR, 97006, USA

2 Biomedical Engineering Unit, Department of Electronics, Computer Science & Systems, Alma Mater Studiorum-Universita’ di Bologna, Viale Risorgimento 2, 40136, Bologna, Italy

3 Functional and Applied Biomechanics Laboratory, Rehabilitation Medicine Department, National Institutes of Health, Clinical Center, Building 10, MSC 1604, Bethesda, MD, 20892, USA

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Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation 2012, 9:59  doi:10.1186/1743-0003-9-59

Published: 22 August 2012



Clinicians need a practical, objective test of postural control that is sensitive to mild neurological disease, shows experimental and clinical validity, and has good test-retest reliability. We developed an instrumented test of postural sway (ISway) using a body-worn accelerometer to offer an objective and practical measure of postural control.


We conducted two separate studies with two groups of subjects. Study I: sensitivity and experimental concurrent validity. Thirteen subjects with early, untreated Parkinson’s disease (PD) and 12 age-matched control subjects (CTR) were tested in the laboratory, to compare sway from force-plate COP and inertial sensors. Study II: test-retest reliability and clinical concurrent validity. A different set of 17 early-to-moderate, treated PD (tested ON medication), and 17 age-matched CTR subjects were tested in the clinic to compare clinical balance tests with sway from inertial sensors. For reliability, the sensor was removed, subjects rested for 30 min, and the protocol was repeated. Thirteen sway measures (7 time-domain, 5 frequency-domain measures, and JERK) were computed from the 2D time series acceleration (ACC) data to determine the best metrics for a clinical balance test.


Both center of pressure (COP) and ACC measures differentiated sway between CTR and untreated PD. JERK and time-domain measures showed the best test-retest reliability (JERK ICC was 0.86 in PD and 0.87 in CTR; time-domain measures ICC ranged from 0.55 to 0.84 in PD and from 0.60 to 0.89 in CTR). JERK, all but one time-domain measure, and one frequency measure were significantly correlated with the clinical postural stability score (r ranged from 0.50 to 0.63, 0.01 < p < 0.05).


Based on these results, we recommend a subset of the most sensitive, reliable, and valid ISway measures to characterize posture control in PD: 1) JERK, 2) RMS amplitude and mean velocity from the time-domain measures, and 3) centroidal frequency as the best frequency measure, as valid and reliable measures of balance control from ISway.

Postural control; Accelerometers; Inertial sensors; Parkinson’s disease