What Is Impact Biomechanics?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 23 October 2019
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Impact biomechanics is the study of what happens to the human body after an impact, like car crashes, falls, and sports injuries. This field blends engineering and medicine to develop better safety systems and treatment options for people involved in impact injuries. Anyone who rides in a car or plays sports, among many other things, is directly benefiting from impact biomechanics research, and may never know it. For example, research in this field caused a radical reworking of car dash designs to prevent injuries like severe head trauma caused by protruding knobs in poorly placed positions.

In this field, researchers can work with human cadavers as well as tissue simulants to look at what happens to actual structures in the body on impact. They also utilize dummies in research. Far from being “dumb,” dummies in fact provide a wealth of information and can be quite talkative. They are filled with an assortment of impact sensors and measurement instruments that record pressures and forces during impact. This data feeds to a computer program that can be used to analyze test results.


Researchers want to understand the biomechanical processes behind impact injuries. These can include phenomena like brain damage caused by the brain whipping around inside during the skull, or aortic tears caused by violent back and forth motion. They learn what happens inside the body when subjected to different kinds of impact pressures, including sharp blows, whiplash, and forces that might be encountered in airplane crashes, car accidents, and bombings. Understanding the nature of such injuries provides a number of benefits.

The first is better medical treatment. When researchers understand the pathology behind impact injuries, they can offer advice to care providers to help them treat patients more effectively. Awareness of impact biomechanics, for example, explains why many emergency responders strap patients to backboards if there is any question of spinal trauma. This simple measure can save lives and reduce the severity of injuries by stabilizing the spinal column right away.

In addition, understanding impact biomechanics can allow for the design of better safety systems. This includes restraints, airbags, and protective gear. Systems that are clearly dangerous can also be configured in new ways to reduce the risk of injury. Rearranging the elements inside a car, for instance, can drastically reduce the chances of fatalities in accidents. Requirements that car seats face the back of a vehicle, for example, are based on impact biomechanics studies that show this is a safer position in the event of an accident.


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