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Informations sur les Sciences de l'Entraînement Sportif

Chapter 1 : History and rise of biomechanics

par A. Manolova | 3 February 2018

biomechanics, sciences, movement, analysis, sport, history, force, walking, electromyography, Leonardo da Vinci, Vesalius, Galileo, Borelli, Marey, Muybridge, Bernstein, Elftman

Figure 1. A wood engraving depicting the reduction of a dislocated shoulder with a Hippocratic device.

I. Ancient History

The development of biomechanics has debuted with the scientific interest for the human body and its anatomy. Traces of such interest are found in Egyptian papyri dated 1700-1600 BC, like the papyrus Edwin Smith or the papyrus Ebers. This knowledge was certainly needed for embalming techniques, but the anatomy was still at an early stage. Around the 4th century BC, Hippocrates (460-377 BC) founded modern medicine, but the prohibition of dissection of the human body limited anatomical and physiological knowledge. However, Hippocrates relied on logic and thinking to cure diseases and joint injuries (Fig. 1).

During the 2nd century, Galen of Pergamon (130-201 or 216), doctor of the Roman emperor Marc Aurèle, circumvented the prohibition of dissection of the human body by studying the animal anatomy, and in particular, the anatomy of the maggot monkey. This anatomical knowledge, often erroneous, will remain unchanged more than 1300 years - until the human dissections made by the Flemish doctor Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564) who will revolutionize the anatomy and the study of the human body.

II. The Renaissance is one of the most prosperous periods for scientific knowledge

However, it was Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) who was one of the first to dissect human beings. We owe him many anatomical descriptions of bones, joints and muscles. In his Codex Atlanticus essay, Leonardo da Vinci made the first extensive descriptions of the mechanics of human movements in the different planes of space (Fig. 2). He emphasizes, moreover, that "the science of mechanics is so noble and useful in comparison with all other sciences, that it is possible that all living organisms having the possibility of moving are governed by its laws".

Figure 2. Study of the upper- and lower-arm movements.

Mechanics becomes a science thanks to Galileo (1564-1642). Indeed, he was very interested in mechanics and movements. He studied medicine and physics, he confirmed several theorems on the center of gravity and was interested in the fall of bodies and pendulum. Thanks to these studies, Galileo used the pendulum to measure the pulse. Experiments and analyzes of Galileo on the mechanics of living systems appear in his work written in 1638 Discorsi e dimostrazioni matematiche intorno a due nuove scienze attenenti alla meccanica e i movimenti locali.

One of the first attempts at scientific analysis of the movement of living organisms (ie, locomotion) in space was made by Giovanni Alfonso Borelli (1608-1679). For this, he relied on Galileo's theory of mechanics. In his work De motu animalium (1679), he compares the locomotion of the man with the movement of a small boat and its rower and notes the similarities between the support of the foot on the ground and the support of the shovel paddle in the water. In the second part of his book, he tries to explain the internal forces, that is the muscular contractions. Borelli studied locomotion on land, in the water and in the air with walking animals, swimming fish and flying birds.

III. The XIXth century and the scientific movement analysis

The modern notion of locomotion encompasses all the movements of living organisms in real environments. In humans, walking is a very complex locomotion in which almost the entire musculoskeletal system participates - about 200 bones, 320 skeletal muscles, and many joints. The first experimental research of human locomotion was carried out in Göttingen by the brothers Wilhelm and Eduard Weber in 1836. They established that the center of mass of the body in a standing position was about 56.7% of the height of the body, measured from ground. When walking, they measure the length and frequency of steps at different speeds. They find that :

  • The center of gravity of the body lowers with increasing gait speed.
  • The time of the double support (ie, when both feet touch the ground) decreases with the increase of the walking speed.
  • During the movement, the foot support on the ground creates a fixation point which allows an inverted pendulum movement to the lower limb.

Figure 3. Series of photographs depicting the galloping of a horse by Muybridge, 1887.

The research interest on human locomotion increases when Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904) makes the first successive photographs of a movement in space. At the time, a controversy existed as to whether during a gallop, the four legs of the horse could be in the air simultaneously. In 1878, Muybridge had 12 cameras on a line. A galloping horse rushes and fires each camera past it. This first series of photographs proved that there is a phase where the four legs of the horse are in the air simultaneously (Fig. 3).

Interested in the work of Muybridge, the French scientist Étienne-Jules Marey (1830-1904) contacted him in 1881, he wanted to study the mechanics of flying birds. At this time, the center of influence of scientific research was in France. The leader was E.J. Marey - Professor at the Collège de France. In this group, participated scientists such as Carlet, Demeny and Pages. The group published some important studies - Marey (1872), Carlet (1872), Marey (1873, 1874).

Adolf Fick (1860, 1866) and Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne (1867, 1873) contributed significantly to a better understanding of the functioning of the muscular and articular systems.

From his meeting with Muybridge, Marey created the photographic rifle in 1882 (Fig. 4). It is a portable device that can take 12 shots on the same plate with a rotary shutter. It makes it easy to break down and study the movement. Based on the rifle, Marey invented the chronophotographer, a fixed device that works on the same principle as the rifle.

Figure 4. The Marey's photographic rifle.

The same year, Marey created the physiological station of the Parc des Princes, funded by the French state in order to support the war effort through scientific research. For this purpose, he studied human movement (ie, walking, running, jumping, etc.) by photographing subjects on a black background.

Each subject wore a black jumpsuit sewn with white stripes to represent the body segments. The result is a kinogram (Fig. 5). This method is still used even though digital cameras now replace the chronophotograph, and reflective markers replace the white stripe.

Christian Wilhelm Braune (1831-1892) and Otto Fischer (1861-1917) were strongly inspired by Marey's work. After Braune's death, Fischer improved Marey's movement study technique using four chronophotographic devices. When studying walking, experiments and data analysis were more accurate, and the results more meaningful. He concluded that during walking, the lower limb does not have a pure pendulum behavior and that it depends on muscular forces. These conclusions contradicted those of the Weber brothers.

Figure 5. Special suit of Marey and kinogram obtained using chronophotography for motion analysis.

IV. The XXth century : Biomechanics as modern science

Son of Adolf Fick and student of Otto Fischer, Rudolf Fick is the author of an anatomy book published at the beginning of the 20th century entitled Manual of Anatomy and Mechanics of the Joints. In the three parts that make up the book are precisely detailed each muscle and joint.

Figure 6. Cyclogram of the wrist during a forge movement at the laboratory of the Central Labor Institute, Russia.

At this time, the work of Jules Amar (1879-1935) took a significant importance by linking the theories of articular motion to human physiology for the rehabilitation of amputee patients who require prostheses. For this, Amar invented the "dynamographic sidewalk" that measures the forces applied to the ground by patients, he used it to adapt the prostheses to patients. This device is the ancestor of the force plate that can be found in almost every laboratory of biomechanics nowadays. The first world war is the cause of many amputations of the lower and upper limbs. As a result, the attention of many researchers (eg, Mommsen (1918), Shede (1918), Bloch (1919), Schmetz (1921), Verth (1927), etc.) focused on the study of movement and the realization of prostheses.

In Russia, the development of biomechanics began with the work of physiologist Ivan Sechenov (1829-1905) and physicist and anatomist Peter Lesgaft (1837-1909). However, it is Nikolai Bernstein (1896-1966), a neurophysiologist with a background in mechanics and mathematics, who represents Russian biomechanics internationally. This scientist and his collaborators analyzed the human movement, in particular to optimize the performance of the workers (Fig. 6). It was Bernstein who named the term biomechanics to design the study of motion through the application of mechanical principles.

Figure 7. First force plate created by Elftman and published in Science in 1938.

In 1938, a fundamental book on sport biomechanics entitled The Movements of the Human Body was written by Michael Ivanitski (1895-1969). He was the author of more than 100 scientific articles based on the functional anatomy of movement in relation to the practice of physical education and sports. Among Russian scientists of the middle of the 20th century, we must consider Lev Nikolaev (1898-1954) whose book Guide of biomechanics applied to orthopedics, traumatology and prostheses (1947-1950) showed his experience gained during the Second World War.

In the 1930s, German scientist Basler worked on locomotion. He was particularly interested in the center of gravity of the human body. He designed a special dynamometer that allowed him to study the reaction forces of the foot on the ground both vertically and horizontally.

The first uses of electromyography (ie, recording of electrical muscle activity) were performed between 1920 and 1930 by Wachholder and Altenbürger. By studying the muscular activity during different movements, they show that the muscles are at the origin of the movement of the segments. The work of these authors had a major influence in the field of motor learning and muscle coordination.

Scherb, a Swiss scientist, published in the 1940s his work on muscle activity. He recorded the electrical muscle activity of different muscles when walking on a treadmill. He called his method, myokinesiology. He used his results to diagnose possible muscle problems and to perform controls after muscle transplantation. He is one of the first scientists to support the idea that for automatic activities such as walking, the neuromuscular strategy is learned through experience and is profoundly recorded for the entire life.

Between 1938 and 1943, various scientific experiments conducted by the American scientist Elftman took place in a Colombian university. He studied the distribution of the masses at the feet, the function of the arms during walking, the rotations of the body, the reaction forces of the ground during walking, etc. His name is mainly related to the design of the first force plate whose was described in the famous scientific journal Science in 1938 (Fig. 7).

At the end of the Second World War, experimental research in biomechanics in Germany was virtually stopped and greatly weakened in the rest of Europe. For obvious reasons, only the work on the support of millions of invalids by the construction of prostheses, orthoses and orthopedic research was financed. The center of scientific influence then moved in North America. However, towards the end of the 20th century, movement analysis sciences developed again in Europe and Asia.

The next chapters of this course will explain the basics needed to understand human movement to allow you to apprehend the biomechanics of sport.

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