If you’re new to my site, you’re probably wondering why I’ve called my blog persona the “Mother of Neurons” (hint: check out the “About Me” post). Well, my research area is “Neuromechanics“, which is probably not a very commonly used term or a sub-discipline most people know very much about. My goal is to change that, so buckle up and brew yourself a strong cup of tea or coffee: I’m about to dive in and get you all excited about neuromechanics.
Neuromechanics, originally proposed by Roger Enoka in 1988, is the study of the relationship between movement neuroscience and biomechanics. Why did researchers feel the need to combine neuroscience and biomechanics? Well, we know a lot about how our muscles and central nervous system contribute to movement, but we don’t know enough about is how biomechanics and interaction with our environment is involved in neural processing.
Most researchers that study neuromechanics try to understand how our body (or that of animals) works as a whole system works so they can explain what the algorithm is for controlling the system. We want to understand how our brain and body collaborate to execute complex, coordinated movements like walking, balance, running, reaching, squeezing fingers, and the list goes on and on and on and…
So, how do neuromechanists go about this? Why, we experiment and collect information from the body, of course! First, we use sensing systems that collect information from different bodily systems like our brain (EEG or electroencephalography), muscles (EMG or electromyography), and limbs (motion capture or wearable sensors that track limb position). I can literally write an entire post detailing bioinstrumentation (and probably will), but these are just a FEW of the MANY systems available to researchers to collect information needed to conduct neuromechanics research. Then, we conduct movement experiments in lab-controlled environments that mimic real-world interactions and collect data that will tell us more about how our brain, sensing organs, and body communicate while interacting with the environment as well as telling us about how our movement adapts to various conditions.
**As briefly mentioned before, animal studies are included in neuromechanics research and methods may vary when it comes to animal models – I’m just more familiar with human models 🙂 **
All in all, why is neuromechanics important and why should we care about this field? This knowledge is valuable to the clinical assessment of movement disorders typically caused by injury or neurological/musculoskeletal ailments, development of new bio- and wearable technologies such as exoskeletons, and disability-related/rehabilitation engineering (my favorite contribution, and evidently my doctoral research).
Well, there you have it! I hope you’ve been patient on my not-so-brief breakdown on neuromechanics and that you have a new subset of STEM to get excited about. If you’re interested in reading some interesting papers in this field, feel free to send me a message using the contact form and I can refer you to some exciting literature but a lot of good intro papers are, surprisingly, listed under References on the Wikipedia page I linked earlier. I will also probably follow up with a post on how I got into neuromechanics, but for now, please enjoy this feature on my college journey from Valencia College!