What Is Orthopedic Biomechanics?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Orthopedic biomechanics is the study of mechanical systems in the body to further the prevention and treatment of musculoskeletal disorders. It includes areas of study like developing better knee replacement technology, analyzing the impact of car accidents on the human body, and monitoring bone injuries in athletes. This field tends to be multidisciplinary in nature. Research can integrate input from engineers, orthopedic surgeons, physical therapists, and other allied professionals with an interest in how to protect and strengthen the skeleton and its attached tissues.

An orthopedic healthcare provider looking at the X-ray of a patient with joint problems.
An orthopedic healthcare provider looking at the X-ray of a patient with joint problems.

One aspect of orthopedic biomechanics is the study of healthy skeletons and muscle systems to learn more about how the body works and is put together. This can provide important insight for researchers interested in how injuries occur, as this can help them develop injury prevention techniques. For example, understanding the function and structure of the spine can help automotive engineers create better restraint systems to limit the risk of serious spinal cord injuries in crashes. They work with research from models, actual patients, and crash tests to create effective and safe systems to prevent injury.

Orthopedic biomechanics might included the development of new artificial hip joints.
Orthopedic biomechanics might included the development of new artificial hip joints.

The process of disease or injury in musculoskeletal structures is another area of interest. Researchers in orthopedic biomechanics can study topics like repetitive strain injuries, muscle tears caused by athletic activity, and breakdown of joints over time in association with aging. Their work can prevent some injuries while developing better treatments for others. Rotator cuff injuries in the shoulder, for example, are an example of a biomechanical injury that can be treated with research rooted in orthopedic biomechanics.

Advanced orthopedic treatments include not just static implants to replace or support aging joints and bones. Research includes fully articulated artificial joints with computer controls to engage in activities like load balancing and adjustment. This allows for the creation of tools like prosthetics suitable for competitive running, or safer hip joints for older adults. Orthopedic biomechanics also looks at ways to monitor skeletal structures internally to improve the quality of care with techniques like sensors embedded around bones.

Numerous research opportunities are available in this field at colleges and universities as well as private institutions. An advanced degree may be required for some types of work. Some people approach orthopedic biomechanics from a background in medicine, while others may have experience in engineering and computer science. The ability to work cooperatively is key, as much of the research to improve patient care requires input from a variety of experts in different subjects.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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