Analysing changes in gait as we age

Analysing Movement

The Biomechanics Laboratory at Victoria University researches how our gait and balance alter as we age and investigates the use of wearable interactive devices for sports skill development,

First published: 22/09/2014

Updated at: 24/09/2014 at 10:01 am

Accidental falls are the leading cause of hospitalisations due to injury in Australia, according to a series of reports released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, this month.

Falls prevention is a growing area of concern to the health system in Australia, as one in three people aged over 65 will experience injury from at least one fall each year.

The Gait Laboratory within the Biomechanics Lab at Victoria University (VU) is currently undertaking a number of projects involving gait analysis especially in the elderly to help understand how to help prevent the incidences of falls in the aged.

“Elderly people walk differently to young people. Their balance can be impaired by osteoarthritis, wear on joints, tendons and muscles and slower cognitive sensory feedback of each step. This can lead to miscalculations in foot clearance or how far the foot is from the ground,” said Dr Simon Taylor, Lecturer at the College of Sport and Exercise Science at VU.

“This means older people tend to have more difficulty with posture and balance control and the effect is a less precise toe position during the leg swing when walking. The relationship between good balance control and avoiding tripping risk, provides further support for community intervention programs that are designed to help elderly people sustain balance function.

“For application in clinical rehabilitation, we can collect data from 5-10 minutes of treadmill walking to appraise someone’s locomotor control system,” said Dr Taylor.

“Our lab equipment is capable of producing quality data which can be used by orthopedic surgeons to plan operations – similar to how surgeons at the Royal Children Hospital plan treatment interventions for children with movement disorders.

“The quality of biomechanics data that we get from our lab equipment is incredibly accurate. We have two types of motion capture systems that we integrate with force measuring platforms. We have two VICON motion capture systems with a combined 20 cameras – these cameras can be set on tripods, or on a high truss.  The VICON system has sub-millimeter accuracy, measuring the motion of a body to within 0.6 of a millimeter. We also have a very accurate Optotrak system from NDI which has sub 0.3mm accuracy when tracking the motion of moving objects. ” said Dr Taylor.

“Apart from lab based motion capture systems, we can place portable sensors on the body to measure movement in the natural environment, and model how humans move. This can be used for various applications, such as measuring foot clearance in the natural environment during gait or for sport movement analysis”.

Professor Rezaul Begg, Director of VU Biomechanics Laboratory, said he has been using inertial sensors for estimating foot movement and tripping risks in older adults. He is also collaborating with physiotherapists from local hospitals to improve gait function in stroke patients using biofeedback –based gait training.

In sports applications, the instrumentation at VU can be used to measure the biomechanics of the whole body, providing an analysis and appraisal on performance and technique (e.g., improving kicking accuracy in AFL). ‘Force plates’ measure force through the musculo-skeletal system during sport and give a good estimate of the forces provided by the muscles that generate the torque at the joints.

Robert Stokes, Bio-instrumentation Engineer in the Biomechanics Lab, said he once made an instrument for a dragon boat paddle, to measure the forces continuously during the paddling stroke.  “We were able to measure the propulsive forces generated by the paddle when it was in the water and the inertial force on the paddle when it was in the air”, Robert said. “The inertial forces had not been previously reported in paddle sports literature and its significance with respect to synchronisation of kinematic and kinetic data was overlooked. This was one of the significant findings of a PhD study into the biomechanics of dragon boat paddling .”

“VU Biomechanics staff work with external industries and partners on various collaborative projects. We are currently working with flooring and tile industries to investigate gait patterns used in various environments and transitions between surfaces, and associated slipping risks.  A footwear company asked us to measure the effect of their new shoe design on movement function and locomotion safety.  We could apply the same biomechanical testing to other applications involving human movement,” said Prof Begg.

Biomechanical analysis of gait and posture is also useful for a range of disciplines, including orthotics and prosthetics. “People with diabetic neuropathy can benefit from the analysis of foot pressure changes due to an orthotic intervention in a shoe that might help to minimise the effect on foot ulcers,” he said.

The Biomechanics Laboratory is part of the Institute of Sport, Exercise and Active Living (ISEAL), College of Sport and Exercise Science at Victoria University. Read more here or on the VU website.

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