The Intimate Affair of Biomechanics and Sports: Enhancing Athlete Performance, Preventing Injuries and Directing Treatments

Biomechanics refers to the study of the movement of biological systems using mechanics, which describes motion and how forces create motion. This Biophysics subfield allowed the study of flying birds, swimming fish and pouncing felines. Biomechanics relies on four main elements: dynamics (studying systems in motion), kinematics (effect of forces on a system), kinetics (study what causes motion and forces), statics (studying systems at rest or constant speed).  You may wonder how biomechanics can be applied in humans?

Sports for example highly depends on biomechanics. Extreme sport movement relies on both anatomical factors (muscle strength, body shape) and psychological factors. Picture a training session between a coach and her gymnast, struggling with her back handspring. It turns out the take-off angle and body arch shape explain the poor performance. Thanks to biomechanics, the coach knows that by working on her arch, this will also affect the take-off angle. The training pays off and athlete can now add a new skill to her repertoire. 

Effective design of new sport material may also improve athlete performance and also relies on biomechanics. For example, using smaller tennis rackets to match the muscular strength of younger or smaller players enhanced their performance. Strength and conditioning programs also benefit from the mechanical studies of movements.

Preventing, limiting and treating any injuries associated with intense training programs have been tackled with biomechanics. Indeed, the sport industry has benefitted from better understanding the mechanical properties of tissues and the identification of potential injury sites. From this, many preventive injury treatments have been developed alongside specialised sports equipment (running shoes, helmets, bikes…). 

In the unfortunate event that a serious injury or accident have occurred, biomechanics also supports rehabilitation exercises, orthotics (correct displaced joints or any deformities) or prosthetics (artificial limbs). Biomechanists are highly sought after in hospitals to evaluate effectiveness of treatments for example in restoring walking – the patient’s muscular strength, control and coordination are assessed. 

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Designing prosthetics to improve the performance of disables athletes also relies on biomechanics. Indeed, such implanted artificial limbs need to fit within the body without causing any adverse effects. For example, a lower limb prosthesis must be able to hold the standing body weight. Indeed, the body’s weight pushes down on the prosthesis, this force pushed through it and into the ground. Biomechanists have shown that the body’s weight on the prosthetic needs to be well-distributed and is key for adequate socket design.