A jump or a throw is not just one movement. Each action is the result of dozens of small movements that work together to facilitate an end goal. Using the biomechanics of sport and exercise, athletes can learn about their own movements and make the changes they need to improve performance and lower their risk of injury.
What is sports biomechanics?
Sports biomechanics is a science that uses observation and analysis to give athletes, medical professionals, coaches and performance specialists valuable information about how the body moves during certain tasks.
"Biomechanics is the study and analysis of movement, or how someone performs a task, whether it be running, jumping, throwing or hitting," says John Abt, Ph.D., Director of Research for Children's Health Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine.
That analysis can be simple, taking place in a sports medicine clinic with a clinician's expert observation, or more detailed in a laboratory with advanced tools. The complete picture of the athlete is evaluated during this analysis and may be compared to healthy or efficient movement patterns. For instance, when an athlete is fatigued, their technique may suffer. In the controlled setting of a lab, 3D cameras and force plates can be used to see how motion is affected by the athlete's energy level.
With the right feedback based on the biomechanics analysis, athletes can make changes to how they run, land, jump, throw and complete other movements associated with their particular sport.
How does biomechanics prevent injuries?
Biomechanical performance can be involved in many sports injuries. For example:
- Landing in a poor position can lead to an ACL tear
- Throwing with incorrect form can contribute to overuse injuries in the shoulder
- Lifting incorrectly can lead to back injuries
A biomechanical analysis may help athletes spot these potential issues before an injury occurs. Athletes can then start to make conscious changes to how they move and ultimately reduce the risk of injury.
"Some of the data on knee and ACL injuries shows that it is milliseconds from the time of initial contact with the ground to when injuries occur," says Dr. Abt. "We need to build that awareness and subconscious preparation for the body to go through certain types of tasks related to landing, jumping or cutting."
The more an athlete repeats correct movements, the more their body will be able to move that way subconsciously, even if they are tired or thinking about something else. It is similar to knowing how to go down the steps in the dark; your body can anticipate how your legs will land and keep you safe, even though you can't see.
Using the correct technique doesn't always come naturally; many kids learn to move in ways that are comfortable for them when they are younger but could cause injuries as they grow.
"It's never too early to start understanding how kids move," says Dr. Abt. "Teaching an athlete at a younger age how to move properly is important. As they grow, movements can become more awkward, so teaching proper form and training at an early age offers great benefits."
How can biomechanics improve athletic performance?
Optimal athletic performance and reduced risk for injury often go hand-in-hand. The better technique an athlete is using through each movement, the more likely they are to perform well and avoid injuries. For example, improving throwing technique leads to a lower risk of overuse injury.
"If you can optimize the performance of a throwing motion, there will be less stress applied to the joint itself or tissues surrounding the joint," says Dr. Abt.
Using biomechanics, athletes can look at every small detail of how they run, jump, throw, change directions and many other tasks. The information is invaluable. For instance, if an athlete is not optimally bending their knees during a jumping or landing task, they can focus their training to improve their performance through motor learning, improved strength and balance training.
All these small changes can improve athletic performance. Dr. Abt says biomechanics can be used with almost any sport to improve performance and reduce the risk of injury. With expert feedback and supportive training, young athletes can use biomechanics data to take their game to the next level.
The first pediatric institute of its kind in the region, the Children's Health Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine aims at reducing the number of children being sidelined from injury. Learn more about our wide range of services available to help athletes stay healthy and improve their game.