Life is full of activities that are engaging, stimulating, and exciting. Activities such as walking, running, cycling, driving, flying, and playing sports are daily occurrences. While the individual and societal benefits of these activities are numerous there are risks associated with many of these activities. Thus, design approaches and standards are developed to limit the potential for injury to occur under expected conditions.

When structures such as buildings or bridges are designed, the materials used for construction can be manufactured, processed and tested to accurately characterize their mechanical properties and establish the conditions that are required to cause failure. In contrast, designing environments for work, recreation and travel cannot rely on the same type of extensive testing for all the different anatomical structures in the living human body, for obvious moral and ethical reasons. As the properties of an individual’s muscle, bone, ligaments and tendons cannot be determined under the vast array of conditions that the human body is exposed to, predictions of the body’s response are needed. For this reason, the science of biomechanics, which examines how the body both generates and responds to force, employs a variety of techniques to provide insight into how and why injuries occur. With this approach, biomechanics allows scientists and engineers to design environments, activities and protective equipment to reduce the risk and occurrence of both acute and chronic injuries.

This article highlights the role of biomechanics as a design consideration surrounding a variety of activities and exposures, as well as in less frequent traumatic events. It is hoped that the reader gains a basic understanding of how biomechanics expertise plays a significant and distinct role in the analysis of human-world interaction, in addition to an appreciation of the opportunities and challenges that exist when using predictive methods in the design process.

Rob Parkinson