What is Biomechanics?

Liu et alBiomechanics is the study of anatomical structure and function in living organisms using principles of physics and engineering. Lots of people use the term these days in a very loose way that makes it difficult to gain good understanding of what biomechanics really is, or what sets it apart from other fields of anatomical study.

Biomechanics explains the challenges of standing and moving in terms of physics, and analyzes the ways living systems meet these challenges in terms of physics as well. This sets it apart from subjects such as what muscles produce which types of motion (kinesiology) or the ways that specific anatomical adapations produce improved speed or leverage (functional morphology). These fields all overlap, obviously, and they also include other areas of biology such as comparative anatomy, neuroanatomy, physiology, and evolution. But when discussion of an animal’s anatomy turns to consideration of force or stress, then you are in the field of biomechanics. Biomechanics also considers the material properties of bone and soft tissues, including their elasticity and ability to resist shear and bending stresses.

The horse biomechanics seminar offered by Dr. Dawn Adams includes — as do all studies of biomechanics — considerations of muscles and the nervous system, and of related subjects such as gait analysis. But it differs from other print and online learning materials about how horses function because it has a strong focus on the actual field of biomechanics as an important tool for understanding these subjects in more powerful ways. That focus reflects Dawn Adams’ very specialized training and research experience in the biomechanics of large animal posture and locomotion.

(Figure is from Liu, X.S. et al. 2010. Journal of Bone Mineral Research 25(10).)

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