A biomechanical assessment sounds like something you’d find at an engineering firm, but it’s actually a crucial part of effective physiotherapy treatment. Starting treatment without a proper assessment is a bit like walking around blindfolded – you’ll reach your destination if you’re lucky, but probably with a couple of wrong turns and wasted time…
What exactly is a Biomechanics?
In a nutshell, biomechanics is the study of how mechanical forces affect living organisms. Because living organisms are so varied and complex, you will find different areas of biomechanics. These include cardiovascular biomechanics, cell biomechanics, human movement or orthopedic biomechanics, occupational biomechanics and sport biomechanics. In the field of physiotherapy our special skill lies in human biomechanics, which includes orthopedic and sport biomechanics.
The basis of a biomechanical assessment will always be around multiple principles and factors. Most importantly, we need to determine the type, location, direction, magnitude or range of movement. The most common method of documenting the type, location and direction of movement during a biomechanical assessment is according to the plane and axes of movement.
- Sagittal plane movements include flexion and extension. Simply put, these will be forwards and backwards movements. An example of flexion will be when you bend your elbow. Extension is moving your elbow joint back to the straight position. These movements occur around the transverse axis.
- Movement in the transverse plane will include most forms of rotation. Rotation is a turning motion, for instance if you stand with your arms next to your sides with the palm of your hand against your thigh. Turning the palm of your hand away from your thigh will be rotation of your arm. This movement will be around the longitudinal axis.
- Frontal plane movements are described with relation to the midline. Examples will be abduction, moving away from the midline, or adduction, moving back towards the midline. In this case the axis will be anteroposterior, or front to back.
Don’t worry if all these terms sound like Greek to you – your physiotherapist is an expert at using them during an assessment and can explain the findings to you using everyday, practical examples.
Why is a biomechanical assessment so important?
Something like a neck muscle spasm may seem like an isolated problem, but did you ever stop to think how much it actually affects your day? Every time you grab your phone off the table or look in your blindspot while driving can cause a sudden burst of pain. As soon as it passes your busy day moves it to the back of your mind. Until it starts to happen more often and stays there for longer and you can’t remember the last time you went through a day without the pain or discomfort.
Human movement or mechanics is amazing and complex. Just think of all the movements involved in scrolling on your phone. Try holding your whole body completely still like a statue for a moment, only moving your eyes. You can’t scroll without using your fingers and you can’t see the screen without moving your neck and head. Your arm also needs to move your phone to find a comfortable distance between your eyes and your hand. All this seems well and good, but what if you have a sore shoulder? Or if you woke up with a wry neck? Something simple like reading an article or sending a message can become a massive effort if even a small part of the system breaks down.
We use biomechanical assessments to find out exactly which part of the system is causing your problem. Every time you move, it has an effect on the nerves, muscles and joints in your body. Pain, muscle spasm and injuries will have an even bigger impact, causing a ripple effect that leads to more pain and bigger problems down the line. A biomechanical assessment looks at the big picture to see how your problem affects the whole system. This way, we don’t just treat the current symptoms, we determine if there are other contributing factors that keep you from getting the long-term relief you are looking for.