Introduction to Occupational and Rehabilitation Biomechanics

Manuel Hernandez
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Kinesiology and Community Health
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Initial Publication Date: August 16, 2018 | Reviewed: November 19, 2018


Students are instructed to create a biomechanical model in MATLAB to simulate reaching as far forward and as fast as possible without falling. The goal of the project is to produce a model using realistic characteristics of older adults to estimate what biomechanical parameter might be most responsible for age-related changes. The model must have at least an ankle and hip joint.

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Learning Goals

Goals of the activity: 1. Develop provisional models and hypotheses that frame problem-solving; 2. Identify kinematic and kinetic characteristics of reaching movements in older adults; 3. Explain possible performance limitations to activities of daily living; 4. Demonstrate effective group skills; 5. Conduct self-directed inquiry.

MATLAB is utilized in this activity to provide a platform for computational modeling of a biomechanical system, application of programming skills, and hypothesis testing.

Higher-order thinking skills such as critical thinking, model development, and data analysis are developed by this activity. In addition, writing and teamwork skills are also developed by this activity.

Context for Use

The activity is geared for upper class undergraduate students and first year graduate students in kinesiology or engineering, and presented in a small class, with a preference of at least 3 teams of 3-4 students. It is part of a 4-5 week project as part of a problem-based learning class, where students develop technical and team management expertise in complex problems in occupational and rehabilitation biomechanics. Before encountering this activity, students are expected to have taken a course in human anatomy, physics, and biomechanics. This activity can take place at any point in the semester depending on the composition of the team. Exposure to the use of numerical solvers, MATLAB, and programming would be preferred in at least one team member before beginning the activity.

Description and Teaching Materials

Teaching Notes and Tips


Students are assessed based on the report mechanics and content of their written report (2/3) and oral presentation (1/3). A composite of peer reviews (50%) and team grades (50%) are used for each part of the assignment.

References and Resources