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What is Biomechanics? - Definition & Applications

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  • 0:00 Biomechanics…
  • 1:52 Applications
  • 4:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

Exactly what is the study of biomechanics? In this lesson we'll define the field and explore just a few of the applications biomechanics has in our everyday lives.

Biomechanics Definition and History

Everyone has been to a mechanic before. Likely you took your car to him or her either for regular maintenance or because something went wrong. Because of their understanding of those fickle, ubiquitous machines we all use, they were probably able to diagnose the problem relatively quickly and get you back on the road in a few days, at most.

Far fewer people have ever been to a biomechanic or even know what one is! In this lesson, we will explore what exactly the field of biomechanics is and look at its applications and uses in the 21st century.

Biomechanics is the study of how the systems and structures of biological organisms, from the smallest plants to the largest animals, react to various forces and external stimuli. In humans, biomechanics often refers to the study of how the skeletal and musculature systems work under different conditions. In biomechanics more generally, scientists often try to apply physics and other mathematically based forms of analysis to discover the limits and capabilities of biological systems.

In a way, biomechanics has been around since the inquiring ancient Greek and Roman minds began dissecting animals and vivisecting humans to discover the inner systems of our bodies. Many of the great philosophers and scientists of our past tried their hand at some form of biomechanics, from Aristotle, who wrote On the Motion of Animals in the 4th century BC, to Leonardo da Vinci, who studied human muscle and joint function in 15th century Italy. In the 19th century, scores of Europeans were incredibly fascinated, for some reason, with the gait of horses and extensively studied the biomechanics of a horse's galloping motion.

Today, rather than a field that scientists and philosophers dabble in, biomechanics is its own branch of human and biological science, with entire departments in hospitals and universities devoted to the subject's study.

Applications

Since biomechanics is the study of human movement and interaction with the environment, the field has myriad applications in daily life and touches on many different sciences. Let's look at a few examples of the areas in which biomechanics is most commonly used.

Biomechanics is certainly popular right now in sports and athletics. Sports teams and athletes themselves often hire entire teams to study the movements and forces inherent in the various regular motions and important actions during the playing of a sport. A good example of this is the swinging of a baseball bat or golf club. These are both motions that contort the human body in strange and irregular ways. Teams and/or individual athletes often hire scientists and therapists well-versed in biomechanics to study an athlete's motion, often using slow-motion cameras to study the angles and forces that go into each action. At the highest levels, figuring out a way to squeeze that extra little bit of power out of a baseball player's swing can be the difference between a pop fly and a home run.

The principles of biomechanics don't just matter for large organisms like humans. They're applicable on the smallest scales as well. Indeed, today's scientists are using biomechanics to study animal, plant, and human tissues and materials and discover their most basic properties. Some scientists apply stress and forces to different materials in order to understand which are strongest under which conditions, and how we might be able to use that knowledge to help design new or better medical procedures. Others are examining the basic structures of biomaterials at the cellular and molecular level to find out what biology can teach us about creating stronger synthetic materials.

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