Skip to Main Content

Introduction and Historical Perspective

Human movement has long fascinated scientists, clinicians, philosophers, and artists. Some of the greatest minds in history have expressed an interest in describing and understanding human motion. The famous Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 bc), the Roman physician Galen (131–201 ad), the brilliant artist Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), and Italian scientist ­Giovanni Borelli (1608–1679) all provided detailed and insightful descriptions of human movement and functional anatomy.1 Although these descriptions were purely qualitative, the astute observations and attention to detail were similar in many ways to modern biomechanics. The similarities lie in the fact that their descriptions were rooted in a desire to better understand the human body as a whole, either from a biological perspective or from an artist’s need to better represent human movement in paintings and sculpture. In either case, human movement analysis was used as a tool to provide better understanding of the questions at hand.

The dawn of modern biomechanics coincided with the development of measurement tools that allowed the analyses to become quantitative. The advent of the motion picture camera allowed scientists and photographers to investigate details of human motion that go beyond the capacity of the naked eye. In addition, innovative techniques for recording ground reaction forces and displacements, as well as more precise time measurements, facilitated some of the first studies that could be classified as biomechanics or even exercise science. Nobel prize winner A. V. Hill, a physiologist who many consider to be the “father” of modern exercise science, integrated physiologic and mechanical measures to provide valuable insight into the mechanics of muscle contraction, energy expenditure, and the efficiency of distance running and to create the first description of the velocity curve in sprinting.2,3 Wallace Fenn, one of Hill’s students in physiology, used similar instrumentation to pioneer calculation of the work done by the body against gravity as well as an estimation of the work done by individual segments.4,5 Herbert Elftman, a biologist, conducted the first true ­“biomechanics” study using mechanical principles to estimate the contribution of muscles during the motion sequences recorded by Fenn.6,7,8 The preceding works again demonstrate that biomechanics can best be described as an interdisciplinary tool used by physiologists, engineers, biologists, and artists.

The advancement and widespread use of high-speed film in the 1960s and early 1970s facilitated the publication of biomechanical research studies related to sports. Refinement in instrumentation techniques using newly available microelectronics devices resulted in improved measurements of force, acceleration, muscle activity, and physiologic parameters. For the first time, detailed descriptions of the movements, forces, and metabolic characteristics of athletes during different activities were made available to clinicians and researchers. Thus the fields of sports medicine and sport science began to grow and assemble a body of literature and associated professional societies. College curricula for students in physical therapy, coaching, medicine, physiology, and exercise science ...

Pop-up div Successfully Displayed

This div only appears when the trigger link is hovered over. Otherwise it is hidden from view.