What Is Biomechanic Physical Therapy?

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As technology gets both more advanced and more accessible, biomechanical analysis has become increasingly popular in physical therapy (PT).

This specialized service, which uses various pieces of equipment along with the skills of a therapist to evaluate movement patterns, can be employed for many different purposes including pain reduction, performance enhancement, and function improvement.

Utilizing the field of kinesiology (the study of movement), biomechanical services are useful for a wide variety of individuals from toddlers with cerebral palsy to world-class athletes.

This article will discuss this emerging area of physical therapy and its benefits.

What to Know About Biomechanical Physical Therapy

Verywell / Theresa Chiechi

How Do Biomechanics Work?

Biomechanical analysis takes a basic human movement—like walking or throwing a ball—and breaks it down into precise details in order to identify patterns or areas of deficiency that may be improved upon. Individuals are often unaware of these “faulty” or inefficient movement patterns, which may be invisible to the naked eye, until their therapist captures them during their evaluation.

While early biomechanical studies relied on a series of photographs or slow-motion videos, advancements in computers and motion analysis have allowed this service to become extremely detailed and precise.

Biomechanical Analysis Technology

As technologies like tablets and smartphones have become increasingly widespread, biomechanical analysis has become much more accessible to the average individual or athlete. In fact, in many situations, therapists are now able to capture and explain movements with only a smartphone and a widely available app.

Using information from a biomechanical analysis, a therapist is able to develop an individualized treatment plan that is tailor-made to address the patient’s specific needs.

For example, employing a strengthening program that targets specific hip muscles in female athletes has been shown to improve their movement patterns while they jump.

Biomechanical gait analysis has also been utilized to improve the walking patterns of children with autism spectrum disorder using casting or bracing.

Regardless of condition or goals, taking a more detailed look at a patient’s movements can help a physical therapist better address the patient’s specific needs.

Benefits of Biomechanics in Physical Therapy

In recent years, biomechanical evaluations are becoming more and more prevalent in physical therapy. In fact, one study estimated that 75% of sports medicine physical therapists use video motion analysis regularly in their practice.

Part of this popularity is due to the wide variety of people who can benefit from it.

For Athletes

In the world of sports, biomechanical analysis can serve a number of purposes. It can be useful in recovering from an injury and preventing one from happening in the first place.

A video gait assessment is frequently utilized to determine what type of strike pattern a runner uses when their foot hits the ground and to make adjustments after a running-related injury.

Biomechanical evaluation can be helpful in assessing the degree of strain placed on a pitcher’s elbow and the likelihood that they will experience an injury in the future.

Athletes of all skill levels can use this type of analysis to make tweaks to their form and enhance their overall performance.

For People With Neurological Disorders

Biomechanical evaluation is frequently used in physical therapy for patients with neurological disorders.

Gait analysis is commonly used during stroke rehabilitation to identify abnormalities in a patient’s walking pattern, like reduced stride length or decreased power on the affected side of the body.

This type of assessment can also be performed to diagnose and monitor the progression of other conditions like Parkinson’s disease, ataxia, or dementia.

For Everyday Exercisers

A person doesn’t have to be an elite athlete to realize the benefits of biomechanical analysis. The average person who goes jogging after work or attends a fitness class at their gym can also find value in this service.

Movement assessments may be able to identify areas of weakness or asymmetry that can contribute to sprains or strains over time. In addition, following a video running evaluation, a therapist may be able to provide guidance on subtle changes to running form that can prevent injuries from developing in the first place.

Exercises and Examples

The information that a physical therapist gathers from a biomechanical assessment can be used to improve any problems or deficiencies through specific exercises.

Some examples of these exercises include:

  • Strengthening exercises that target the gluteus medius and external rotator muscles of the hip, which can help correct faulty landing mechanics that may lead to a leg injury in an athlete.
  • Drills on the treadmill that are frequently used in injured runners to help them increase their overall cadence and reduce the stresses placed on their feet and knees.

Biomechanical evaluations can also help a physical therapist or neurologist select an orthotic or assistive device that can help correct movement abnormalities, including:

  • Patients who are experiencing foot drop after a stroke may be prescribed an ankle-foot orthosis, a device that prevents the foot from dropping downward while walking.
  • Individuals with multiple sclerosis or other neurological disorders, who lack stability or power in a particular body region, may also be fitted with an assistive device or brace after a biomechanical assessment to make their movements more efficient and safer.

A Word From Verywell

Many different types of people can benefit from a biomechanical evaluation. If you are interested in this type of service, it’s best to speak with your physician first. They can help locate a physical therapist who specializes in this type of assessment and identify how it may help in your particular situation.

It's also important to understand the cost associated with a biomechanical examination before you pursue one. While many therapy locations include this in the cost of a normal PT visit, others may charge extra for this service. Working closely with your therapist and your insurance company can help ensure that you are not surprised by a bill later on.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do physical therapists use biomechanics?

Biomechanics are used by physical therapists to study a person’s movements. Quick and complex motions—like those that take place when running or jumping—are slowed down and evaluated in order to identify components that can be changed or improved upon.

Who can benefit from biomechanical physical therapy?

A wide range of people can benefit from PT that uses biomechanical assessment. This includes athletes, individuals with neurological conditions, and everyday exercisers looking to treat or avoid an injury.

Are biomechanical exercises used alongside traditional PT?

Biomechanical analysis is one of many tools that a physical therapist can use to guide their treatment strategy. This service is frequently used alongside more traditional assessment methods, like range of motion measurements and strength testing, to help a therapist select the most effective exercises and treatments.

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