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What is Biomechanics? Its history and application

What is Biomechanics?

We know, mechanics is the branch of physics dealing with the motion of the bodies and the associated forces with it. It can be further divided into statics, kinematics and dynamics. The statics deals with the bodies at rest, the kinematics with the bodies in motion and the dynamics takes into account the forces responsible for the motion. But have you ever wondered how the motion of the living organisms is governed? With the increasing scope of interdisciplinary research, biomechanics has evolved as a field governing the physics of motion of living beings, such as humans, animals and the basic unit of life: cells. Biomechanics can be defined as a specialized field of mechanics dedicated to the study of the movement of the living things with the theory of science (Hatze, 1974). If the focus is on studying the movement of the human body, it is termed Kinesiology.

Fig 1. A pictorial representation of various forces acting on the human body while running (Source: Pat Cash)

Where did it all start from?

The development of biomechanics can be traced back to the times when the scientific interest in the human body and its anatomy started coming into existence. In the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth-century there were notable contributions made by prominent researchers. Leonardo Da Vinci’s 500-year-old anatomical illustrations prove to be relevant in today’s era also and provide deep insight into human anatomy. Though he was not trained in the field of medicine but is known to have dissected of over 30 bodies. As an artist, he has used Science to understand the human body and as an anatomist, art has been used to reveal the underlying beauty in the human body.

Fig 2. Anatomical illustration of the upper and the lower arm by Leonardo (Source: Science Du Sport)

Andreas Vesalius, a sixteenth-century anatomist, also known as the father of human anatomy, provided a vast exposure in the field of anatomy which proved to be very beneficial. Galileo has analysed the bone strength and shape induced by the increase in weight. The human joint force in the equilibrium conditions was first calculated by Borelli. With the gradual passage of time, extensive studies have been carried out in the field of musculoskeletal biomechanics in the 19th and 20th centuries (Innocenti, B. 2017). In the nineteenth century, extensive studies have been carried out on understanding locomotion and the underlying mechanics by various groups of researchers. In the twentieth century, biomechanics started emerging as modern science and there were numerous studies being carried out across the globe. There were researchers working on studying locomotion, the centre of gravity of the human body, studying muscle activity and other phenomena related to the movement.

Applications of Biomechanics

The application areas of biomechanics can be broadly divided into three categories: (1) injury, (2) performance, and (3) rehabilitation.

  • Injury: Biomechanical injury basically comprises of the failure and damage of the biosystems such as broken bones, torn ligaments and tendons, and organ impairment. The underlying principle of the research in the injury biomechanics is exploring the mechanisms of physical and physiologic responses to mechanical forces via theory of mechanics. Evaluation of tissue properties, studies of accidents and the design of protective equipment also comprise this category. In the figure below, it can be seen that screws and plate are inserted in order to repair a fractured bone. This is an example of injury biomechanics and these are designed by engineers to mend the severely fractured bones.
Fig 3. Plate and screws inserted to repair a fractured bone (Source: TeachEngineering)
  • Performance: Performance primarily refers to the mechanical activities carried out by the living beings such as walking, sitting, standing, carrying objects and also the internal movement such as blood circulation, heart and muscle mechanics, skeletal joint kinematics. Sports biomechanics is one of the important applications in this category and it comprises of detailed analysis of sport movements in order to minimize the risk of injury and maximise the performance. It is very beneficial for the athletes and helps in improving their performance.
  • Rehabilitation: It refers to the process of recovering from injury and disease. Thus rehabilitation biomechanics comprises of the applications in the health care industries such as design and development of implants and diagnostic devices. It basically helps in understanding the effect of disability and the effectiveness of rehabilitation therapies on human performance.

Hence, in this article, we have discussed about the basic introduction and a brief history of biomechanics, followed by its applications.

Hope you all liked reading it! 🙂

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