It’s fair to say most of us don’t think about how we move our hands and fingers when we use them for common tasks. We focus on hand and finger positions when we learn new skills such as knitting or try to perfect skills such as holding a golf club, but overall we don’t pay much attention to our hand positions or movements. The U.S. Department of Defense recently awarded a $1.5 million grant to a University of Missouri researcher to study what the majority of us take for granted.

Scott Frey, the director of the University of Missouri’s Rehabilitation Neuroscience Laboratory, will head an interdisciplinary team from John Hopkins University, Ohio State University, and Washington University in St. Louis. The purpose of the study is to gather data about hand and finger movements during recovery from limb injury that can assist hand surgeons personalize treatment and rehabilitation plans for their patients.

The researchers will use wireless wristband-style wearables with movement sensors on each wrist and upper arm. The wearable will collect movement data while participants perform common, everyday life tasks such as writing a message, reaching for and drinking from a glass, and scratching their nose. The group will compare the data with current standards clinicians use to evaluate patient hand movement and function in clinical settings.

The hand movement study will involve 60 patients recovering from non-amputation limb trauma. Each patient will wear the movement trackers for a seven-day period each year for three years. This longitudinal study will help clinicians learn about how the patients’ brains control their arms, hands, and fingers during recovery from limb injuries. The goal is data modeling that can help create personalized treatment plans to facilitate rehabilitation and improve the patients’ quality of life.