Biomechanics is a scientific discipline which applies principles studied in mechanics to the understanding of living organisms. This discipline incorporates researchers from fields such as biophysics, bioengineering, biology, and medicine, and covers organisms from plants to whales. A number of colleges and universities have biomechanics programs which offer training to students along with numerous research possibilities in this very broad field.
The study of biomechanics can take place on a range of scales and levels, from the molecular level of cell signaling to the study of entire organisms. Understanding how organisms move is an important aspect of this field, as is the understanding of mechanical systems in the body such as the circulatory system and the digestive tract. While people may not think of living organisms as machines, in many ways, they actually perform a lot like machines, and the concepts used in basic mechanics can also be applied to the body.
One field of interest in biomechanics is the study of injuries. Sports injuries in particular are compelling to some researchers, with people interested in learning about how athletes at the peak of their performance move and injure themselves in addition to studying injuries in people who are not as athletic. Biomechanics researchers also look at topics like how the loss of a limb can change movement patterns, how prosthetic devices can be better designed to move with the body, and how bodies respond to stress and strain ranging from depletion of bone mass in space to working as manual laborers.
On a clinical level, biomechanics is very important for understanding patterns of injury and for developing physical therapy programs which will increase strength. Biomechanics is also the science behind many ergonomics recommendations for everyone from massage therapists to office workers. Understanding how activities like using a computer, sitting in an uncomfortable chair, or lifting heavy objects strain the body is an important first step in finding ways to help people reduce strain. Biomechanics is also used to show people how to use their bodies more efficiently, as in the case of a massage therapist who uses the pressure of elbows instead of just the hands.
Researchers are also interested in how different kinds of organisms move and function, and how these variations confer advantages. For example, fish and marine mammals swim in a variety of different ways, while plants have developed a variety of creative ways to access nutrients and resources such as sunlight.