Even before the state-of-the-art biomechanics lab opened in CWU’s new Health Sciences Building, teams of students and faculty already were making many crucial discoveries through research.
For the past few years, Professor Karen Roemer has been working with her grad students on human movement biomechanics research, including one study that measures people’s ability to maintain their balance when redirecting their “attention to focus.” Her team used muscular-skeletal models and a laser-pointer at different distances to understand how balance and motor control functions change with age.
“Loss of balance is a significant health risk for older people, so we wanted to see what would happen when we redirected their attention to focus,” Roemer said of the study published in early 2021. “We found that it was often just people’s perception of objects close to their body that made their performance deteriorate.”
The findings have led to discussions about new training programs that instruct older people how to focus on far-away objects while maintaining proper balance. “The study confirmed that if you want to balance, focus on something in the distance,” Roemer said.
Another influential study she has undertaken in recent years, in collaboration with the University of Leipzig and the Institute of Applied Training Science in Germany, analyzes the posture of javelin throwers so they can improve performance. Roemer and her students also look forward to using the new biomechanics lab to work with CWU athletes to study their cognition as it relates to cutting maneuvers (moving side-to-side).
“Sports provides us with a great context because we are able to define stress on the body,” Roemer said, adding that the biomechanics program is essential for students pursuing degrees in physical therapy, strength training, and related disciplines.
“We help them understand movement technique. Not just how to train muscles, but what movement does to the skeletal system and how it can increase the risk of injury.”
Proper Posture Deters Running Injuries
Roemer’s biomechanics colleague, Eric Foch, also understands the importance of working with athletes when conducting research. During his time at CWU, Foch has focused his attention on how injuries occur in female runners, specifically in their hips.
Over the past five years, his students have helped him gather data on nearly 40 runners so they can perform statistical analyses. The team has published two separate studies about hip motion and hip muscle activation, which have helped many runners alter their technique to prevent long-term injuries.
“Gait retraining is a great method for helping runners prevent future injury,” Foch said. “We observed something in the hip and knee motion that wasn’t right, and with the help of a large mirror and some verbal feedback, we are able to remind runners about how to make the necessary changes to their posture.”
In addition, Foch and his students have determined that a person’s strength doesn’t necessarily influence how they move. A runner’s gait often relies on smaller muscles that surround the hips, which have more of an effect on side-to-side motion.
“They aren’t the strongest muscles, but they are a big part of the supporting cast that keeps hips aligned and moving straight ahead,” he said. “We are hoping that our current study will help us deliver the proper verbal cues to runners so we can have a more specific intervention.”