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The role of motion capture in biomechanical science

April 22, 2020

Contributed by Dr. Kim Duffy, Life Science Product Manager, Vicon

I was first introduced to the world of motion capture technology after suffering a nasty knee injury at a young age. After having to endure surgery and extensive rehabilitation programme, I found my passion for sports biomechanics and gait analysis, which is now what I do for a living.

In my recent PhD, I studied how the combination of research and technology can open up a new understanding of functional movement characteristics, and the effects of age on gait and functional movement characteristics in older adult populations.

My background has given me a very unique perspective on the value of motion capture. But while it’s clear the technology plays an important role in patient rehabilitation, how else is the technology being applied across the life sciences industry?

The history of motion capture

Motion capture technology in life sciences was first used in the early 1970s for gait analysis, and today, biomechanics research still remains the technology’s most common application.

Today, the technology is at the forefront of cutting-edge clinical movement research, including helping to rehabilitate injured military personnel and enhancing the performance of world-class athletes. Motion capture is a vital element to the work of the world’s largest research centres, universities and hospitals.

Optical motion capture systems are being utilised across a wide range of applications, for example, gait analysis provides medical practitioners with a greater understanding into the movement of the lower limbs. It also offers significant benefits in motor control and neuroscience by enabling big advances in the treatment of patients with a range of complex neuro-musculoskeletal injuries — including cerebral palsy and myelomeningocele.

More recently, inertial motion capture technology, which allows subjects’ movements to be tracked and recorded outside in the field rather than the laboratory, is also actively being used by coaches and athletes across a wide range of sports to enhance performance. Being able to measure and assess players and athletes allows coaches to not only improve technique, but to correct actions in order to prevent potential injuries. It is also key to accelerating the return to play of athletes after injuries, ensuring recovery is done safely and minimising the chance of re-injury.

Thanks to significant advances in the technology, motion capture systems are more accessible now than ever before — especially with the availability of affordable inertial devices and apps that present data in more digestible ways. For those working in the broad biomechanics field, motion capture is a true facilitator — one that empowers users with more data-driven methods to understand how their subjects move.

The increasing advancements in the technology is providing decision-makers within the medical space access to more data than ever before, and in turn is helping to improve the quality of not just patient care, but the quality of the life for patients and athletes all over the world.

Transforming lives

The Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre Stanford Hall

Stanford Hall, one of the world’s most advanced rehabilitation centres, is using motion capture technology, near virtual reality, cutting-edge software and more to offer Military of Defence (MOD) researchers the sophisticated and precise tools needed to assess, treat and research key conditions and injuries serving those in the military.

Through the facility, researchers are able to examine important areas in military rehabilitation while offering clinical support to the patient’s multi-disciplinary team. While it’s key to help the patient throughout their stay, the goal is to train them so they can understand how their injury is being affected by their movement in order to recognise it and continue the rehabilitation independently.

Along with the goal of individual patient rehabilitation, the laboratories act as key facilities for movement analysis and military rehabilitation research. With the support of the MOD, staff have the facility to research both current and new approaches to treatment, the findings of which will help to inform future strategies to rehabilitation.

Improving understanding of human motion

The above example is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to motion capture’s use within the life sciences industry and how it’s providing life-changing research that’s vital to improving the lives of patients’.

Technology is always developing, and the supporting academic research is constantly enhancing our knowledge of human movement. For example, Vicon is currently funding research in the development of the CGM 2 project. The Conventional Gait Model (CGM), first developed in the 1980s, has been a widely used biomechanical model for clinical gait analysis. This project will develop and validate an updated version of the CGM which maintains its strengths and corrects the weaknesses. The project remains in the early stages of development, but represents a promising new chapter in motion capture’s evolving role in the biomechanics and life sciences industry.

Motion capture is already deeply embedded in the life sciences sector. With the continuing development of the technology and closer collaboration with researchers and coaches, we will continue to extend our understanding of human movement.

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