BACKGROUND: Smartphones provide opportunities for musculoskeletal research: they are integrated in participants' daily lives and can be used to collect patient-reported outcomes as well as sensor data from large groups of people. As the field of research with smartphones and smartwatches matures, it has transpired that some of the advantages of this modern technology are in fact double-edged swords. BODY: In this narrative review, we illustrate the advantages of using smartphones for data collection with 18 studies from various musculoskeletal domains. We critically appraised existing literature, debunking some myths around the advantages of smartphones: the myth that smartphone studies automatically enable high engagement, that they reach more representative samples, that they cost little, and that sensor data is objective. We provide a nuanced view of evidence in these areas and discuss strategies to increase engagement, to reach representative samples, to reduce costs and to avoid potential sources of subjectivity in analysing sensor data.
CONCLUSION: If smartphone studies are designed without awareness of the challenges inherent to smartphone use, they may fail or may provide biased results. Keeping participants of smartphone studies engaged longitudinally is a major challenge. Based on prior research, we provide 6 actions by researchers to increase engagement. Smartphone studies often have participants that are younger, have higher incomes and high digital literacy. We provide advice for reaching more representative participant groups, and for ensuring that study conclusions are not plagued by bias resulting from unrepresentative sampling. Costs associated with app development and testing, data storage and analysis, and tech support are substantial, even if studies use a 'bring your own device'-policy. Exchange of information on costs, collective app development and usage of open-source tools would help the musculoskeletal community reduce costs of smartphone studies. In general, transparency and wider adoption of best practices would help bringing smartphone studies to the next level. Then, the community can focus on specific challenges of smartphones in musculoskeletal contexts, such as symptom-related barriers to using smartphones for research, validating algorithms in patient populations with reduced functional ability, digitising validated questionnaires, and methods to reliably quantify pain, quality of life and fatigue.