By Paul DeVita, PhD
#2: Why National Biomechanics Day Is Necessary and How It Will Help With #1
We all strive for healthy and happy lives, and many of us are fortunate to reach these goals. For these people, living in the physical world is not a challenge but a pleasure. The world does not overwhelm them; rather, it interacts and plays with them in enjoyable ways. To quote Walt Whitman, we “swim with the swimmers, wrestle with the wrestlers, walk in line with the firemen.” We experience the physical world and revel in it. Sadly, for others with movement limitations, sometimes only modest but sometimes severe, the physical world is a challenge or even a threat to their health and happiness. Their interactions with the world can be difficult or nearly impossible and can cause harm and pain. Through the experiment and the experience that each of us represents, we are biology in the physical world. We are biomechanics and biomechanics is us in motion.
Healthier, more physically gifted people use sound and effective biomechanics and negotiate well around the world and those less healthy and less gifted engage in imperfect and unsound biomechanics, perhaps simply taking too long to cross the street or perhaps even falling. Here, I make the point that biomechanics is first not a science or a tool, but is living beings in their world—tapping their toe, waving their hand, nodding their head. Through our biomechanical sensations we feel the world and through our biomechanical efforts we manipulate the world and move within it. In this case, the more we learn our personal biomechanics and our biomechanical capabilities, the more successfully we live in and experience the world, the more we overcome the world, and the less we are injured by it. We may not conceptualize ourselves in the world in this way, but we all seek to remain healthy, physically capable to the best of our abilities and so lead successful lives, to run with the runners, bowl with the bowlers, and tennis with the tennis-ers. Biomechanics is important because physically, it is us. Understanding how our bodies need to move properly can help us stay healthy longer, and as the population ages, that becomes a personal goal for each individual and a public health goal for society.
National Biomechanics Day • October 2020
National Biomechanics Day has had great success the past four years with few adverse outcomes. Today however, we face as all others do, the pandemic of the COVID-19 virus. While NBD is a worldwide event, it is uniquely also many individual events of small and large groups. We have asked each site to consider the health and safety of their participants and to cancel their current events and if possible, postpone the event. We are now developing an October NBD that will enable us to safely celebrate and enjoy Biomechanics with young people.
Along with being biomechanical, many people use biomechanics to enhance the lives of others. Biomechanics is thus the underlying science for treating people with physical ailments and limitations and also for improving movement capacities in fully capable people. Thus, biomechanics science is the basis for medical rehabilitation and improving athletic performance. Physical medicine is making great strides in many areas, but today I highlight the development and improvement of low-cost effective prostheses through biomechanics. Maria Elizete Kunkel, PhD, is a Professor of Biomedical Engineering (Biomechanics) at the Federal University of Sao Paulo (UNIFESP), Brazil, and she is revolutionizing low-cost prosthetics using 3D printing. She and her work can be found on many websites including her Facebook page. Kunkle’s work is changing the lives of children with limb loss throughout Brazil with printed arm, forearm, and hand prostheses. Each prosthetic is designed and created for an individual child and each prosthetic enables the child to live more successfully and happily in the world. The restored biomechanical hand-function is remarkable in its dexterity and utility. Some of these children have bilateral amputations and so Kunkle’s prostheses with their remarkable biomechanics are enabling these children to successfully engage with the world around them. Her biomechanics work is essential and inspirational.
Biomechanics is also greatly influencing athletic performance, much more so today than ever before. Many commercial entities offer biomechanical analyses to individuals, teams, and sports leagues to improve athletes’ performances. Major League Baseball teams, for example, are rapidly hiring biomechanists and creating their own biomechanics facilities to improve their ballplayers and, of course, to win the World Series! Today I highlight Sanford Sport Science Institute (SSSI) and Lisa McFadden, PhD, biomechanics sports scientist. Here we have a private, commercial enterprise seeking to use biomechanics to enhance performance of athletes from a wide variety of sports. McFadden uses state-of-the-art instruments to help National Football League players and Professional Golf Association golfers, among others, achieve their peak performance capabilities. Mirroring the growth of biomechanics in baseball, there is a growth of commercial business combining medicine and science to enhance athletes’ careers as does SSSI. In the near future, I expect these businesses of applied biomechanics to increase in popularity and to widely offer their services to high school athletes and even younger people to help them not only improve their performance, but also to stay healthy and prevent that post-traumatic osteoarthritis that can develop decades after an ACL tear or other joint injury.
But young people can’t pursue biomechanics if they don’t know anything about it or that it even exists. And if we continue, as we currently do, to only introduce biomechanics in college, then we run the risk of losing great young minds and all the creativity and drive they can bring. My idea to enlighten young minds about biomechanics is…
National Biomechanics Day (NBD), sponsored by The Biomechanics Initiative (thebiomechanicsinitiative.org) and now with five years of celebrating all things biomechanics, is designed to accelerate the growth and impact of a biomechanics philosophy, science, and application by introducing biomechanics to young people, namely high school students. Through NBD, we will awaken young people to biomechanics and doubtless encourage an energetic influx of people into this field.1 In just four short years, we have already introduced biomechanics to nearly 30,000 youngsters and we are only getting started. We hope you’ll join us this year and continue to celebrate biomechanics in coming years. NBD is a unique celebration because it provides a single, unified platform for all biomechanists to jointly celebrate our field. NBD excites young people as they realize they are participating not in a local event but in a whole earth event!
One could ask, do we really need more biomechanists, is the NBD goal worth pursuing? Of course the answer is an emphatic YES! We need more biomechanists and we need both more biomechanics scientists discovering new biomechanics knowledge and biomechanics practitioners bringing this knowledge to people. Opportunities are expanding for biomechanist researchers. Along with prosthetics, exoskeletons, and sports, biomechanists will find employment in many new fields expanding our understanding of people interacting with the physical world. For example, dance science is rapidly growing and needs people to help reduce the injury rate throughout the dance world. Dance science is mostly movement science of dancers, i.e. their biomechanics. Orthopedics is highly reliant on modern biomechanists to improve fracture healing procedures including both surgical treatment and casting techniques. Podiatry will always rely on biomechanics of locomotion and more biomechanists will be needed to create improved foot orthoses and functional shoes for a variety of podiatric patients. For example, advancements in footwear needs of obese individuals and people with diabetes rely on biomechanics scientists and practitioners. One could think any field involving the interaction of people with the environment would benefit by enhancing its biomechanics base. Automobile, furniture, and tool manufacturers will be more successful after including biomechanics as a basis to improve a person’s use of the vehicle, furniture, or tool. I will stop, well, maybe just pause here for now; but I cannot stop in thinking that the continued growth of biomechanics and its vast array of applications will it to become the Breakthrough Science of the 21st Century!!!
Paul DeVita, PhD, is Director of the Biomechanics Laboratory and Leroy T. Walker Distinguished Professor of Kinesiology at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina. He is Past-President of the American Society of Biomechanics and a leader in The Biomechanics Initiative which hosts National Biomechanics Day.
[Editor’s note: LER has been a proud sponsor of NBD since its inception.]
- DeVita P. Why National Biomechanics Day? J Biomech. 2018;71:1-3.