Dr. Brian Campbell (left) and Aaron Misiak study the image produced by the kinesiology lab’s motion-capture equipment.

Dr. Brian Campbell (left) and Aaron Misiak study the image produced by the kinesiology lab’s motion-capture equipment.

Biomechanical research aimed at aiding military personnel

“Oh, my aching back!” is not something you will hear from members of our military, says Dr. Brian Campbell, kinesiology. Even though the highly trained soldiers often carry up to 150 pounds in gear, “they are the non-complainers. They would not want to be reassigned to something like desk duty.”

Senior Bruce Garba walks while wearing a weighted vest and retro-flective markers as Campbell and Misiak study his movements.

What does happen, however, is that these valuable men and women wind up having to retire prematurely due to the physical damage they suffer, Campbell said. In an effort to ward off these injuries, he is using the kinesiology department’s high-speed, high-resolution motion-capture system to analyze the gait and posture of people carrying heavy loads on their upper torso. “The goal is to see if there are consistent changes among individuals in the way they move, if those changes are harmful, and how we might improve the distribution of the load to make it more mechanically safe.”

Given the nature of some of the military personnel’s work, “some of the items they carry they’re not going to be able to live without,” Campbell said. “They carry what they need to survive.” This can include body armor weighing more than 40 pounds, their weapon and, at times, up to 60 pounds of batteries, he added, for necessary electronic devices. “Outside of the military, civilians abide by standards set forth by the OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) related to carrying a load. To my knowledge, there are no such standards within the military.” 

Biomechanics is the study of the physics of human movement, Campbell explained. The BGSU motion-capture system, with its six cameras, can identify movement to within a millimeter accuracy and take 200 pictures per second. Like the technology used to produce such animated films as “Shrek” and “The Polar Express,” it senses movement using retro-flective markers placed on subjects’ arms, legs and torso, and produces a sort of three-dimensional stick figure to produce “true-life movement.”

Campbell and his student assistant Aaron Misiak, a senior from Strongsville majoring in applied health science, recorded movements related to subjects’ gait and trunk movement patterns to compile a database of information.

Misiak said the study was enlightening. “I have several friends in the military, and I know how tedious and tiring it can be to carry the heavy loads they do. If we can find how to distribute it better so it doesn’t do damage to their joints, it will help keep them safer and healthier.”

Misiak has been accepted into the doctoral physical therapy program at the University of Toledo Medical Center. “This research experience has been helpful in preparing me to work with patients and other research subjects, and it’s made me aware of more options in physical therapy and how technology can help. I got to use technology I wouldn’t have seen otherwise,” Misiak said.

Supported by an internal grant from the College of Education and Human Development’s Research Development Council, Campbell is partnering with Dr. Adam Fullenkamp, a postdoctoral researcher in the biomechanical branch at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Campbell plans to apply for a further grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research to continue the work.

Campbell has other plans for the specialized equipment. He formerly studied gait patterns in children with cerebral palsy and advised pediatric orthopedic surgeons in planning their treatment—work he found very rewarding.

He would like to bring that service to the Bowling Green community through a “clinical gait lab.” It provides a valuable service to those with cerebral palsy, he said, and “I’d like our students to have the opportunity to interact with that population.”

February 23, 2009