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What is Biomechanics?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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.

Biomechanics explains how a whale gains forward momentum by moving its tail.
Biomechanics explains how a whale gains forward momentum by moving its tail.

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.

Biomechanics is a basis for massage techniques.
Biomechanics is a basis for massage techniques.

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.

Part of biomechanics is understanding how siting in an uncomfortable chair can strain the body.
Part of biomechanics is understanding how siting in an uncomfortable chair can strain the body.

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.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

drtroubles

I think one of the most fascinating projects in biomechanics is the focus on creating new sources of energy from things around us, all without causing any environmental damage. The biomechanical energy harvester was featured back on the best inventions of 2008 list published by Time magazine. This nifty invention featured an easy to wear device put on a person’s legs that collected energy from their movements while walking. The machines are light, only 3.5 pounds each, which is impressive considering that they can easily gather enough power on a short jaunt to be able to power several cell phones.

As time goes on, I believe we will become more and more clever at individually harnessing the energy around us and using to lesson the burden on larger central power sources.

What do you think are some of the best biomechanical inventions?

lonelygod

Biomechanics is used to create fascinating inventions. There is nothing more fantastic than using our natural world to inspire us to greater things.

One of the ways that scientists have been using biomechanics to improve our technology is in the field of medicine. With the study of the human body they are focusing on ways they can work with our structure, instead of against this.

A good example of this is with open-heart surgery. The traditional method is just to go through the ribs, often breaking some in the process. With research, the scientists have learned that our bones are actually meant to bend to a certain extent, so using this knowledge, they have created a rib spreader that causes less damage. This wouldn’t have been possible without biomechanics.

PinkLady4

The foot has 28 bones, something like 100 ligaments, and lots of tendons and muscles. And it has to hold up the entire body while walking, standing and running. What a load. Many people don't take good care of their feet. They wear shoes that don't have good support. Or they don't warm up their feet before walking or running.

I've had problems with my feet for a number of years now. My heels and arch pronate or roll inward. My arches have fallen. And my toes hurt. I wear orthodics and very supportive shoes. I still feel pain when I walk and afterwards. I also have difficulty balancing on rough terrain. Any suggestions?

Clairdelune

Biomechanics is certainly a broad area of study and so many different careers could be entered through the study of biomechanics.

One important area where I think it is well used is with children who have difficulty with motor planning. These children kind of jump all over the place. They don't know how to go from one place or activity to another in an efficient manner.

Most kids do motor planning automatically - they don't have to think about it. But the children who can't plan their movements could use some therapy by a therapist who is familiar with biomechanics. It would make their lives much easier.

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    • Biomechanics explains how a whale gains forward momentum by moving its tail.
      By: apfelweile
      Biomechanics explains how a whale gains forward momentum by moving its tail.
    • Biomechanics is a basis for massage techniques.
      By: WavebreakMediaMicro
      Biomechanics is a basis for massage techniques.
    • Part of biomechanics is understanding how siting in an uncomfortable chair can strain the body.
      By: anetlanda
      Part of biomechanics is understanding how siting in an uncomfortable chair can strain the body.
    • Biomechanics is important to understanding the functions of the digestive system.
      By: blueringmedia
      Biomechanics is important to understanding the functions of the digestive system.
    • Biomechanics researchers may study sports injuries in top athletes.
      By: wellphoto
      Biomechanics researchers may study sports injuries in top athletes.
    • Biomechanical analysis can determine whether an exercise is being performed in the safest and most beneficial way.
      Biomechanical analysis can determine whether an exercise is being performed in the safest and most beneficial way.
    • Biomechanics is important while practicing physical therapy.
      By: jovanmandic
      Biomechanics is important while practicing physical therapy.
    • With clinical biomechanics, the entire gait pattern of a patient who has difficulty walking is examined.
      By: Tyler Olson
      With clinical biomechanics, the entire gait pattern of a patient who has difficulty walking is examined.