ISB Now

Biomechanics in India: an opportunity for cross-cultural research

Posted on December 22, 2016

I have just returned from an eight-day visit to the MGM Centre of Human Movement Science in Navi Mumbai, India. I have known Prof. Rajani Mullerpatan, Director of the Centre, for over four years now and continue to be impressed with initiatives she leads both within and outside the lab.  Activities range from student research projects investigating the movement mechanics of traditional dance and lifestyle to creating awareness and training of healthcare providers about biomechanics, as well as clinical assessments of patients with musculoskeletal disorders. Most recently, I’ve had the privilege to be part of some of the research and teaching that takes place here.

In August 2013, Dr. Rajani Mullerapatan and I travelled from opposite ends of the globe to meet for the first time in person in Natal, Brazil. Following e-mail and Skype discussions from our respective locations on the planet, it was our shared time at that ISB Congress that ultimately offered the opportunity for us to get to know one another… and for the seed of collaboration to be planted.

Our shared intentions to apply biomechanics research to understanding culturally specific activities such as squatting in India motivated us to collaborate on a joint research initiative. One of our questions focussed on the biomechanical differences between physical postures that a woman may choose during childbirth: how would upright positions such as squatting facilitate or hinder passage of the baby through the birth canal when compared with more conventional supine positions? Could we measure the kinematics of the pelvis and dynamic forces acting on this segment in these different birthing positions?

Following two additional in-person meetings in Glasgow and Toronto in 2015 our ideas took form as a small grant proposal at the end of that year. By that time the MGM Centre of Human Movement Science, boasting a 12-camera Vicon motion capture system, three AMTI force platforms, and a Novel pressure platform, had just been officially inaugurated. (You can read more about the history of this project and ISB contributions in the ISB Now 2014 and 2015 archives.)

This past April our hard work and planning finally came to fruition when I travelled to MGM’s Centre of Human Movement Science in India for two weeks. During this time I contributed to an interdisciplinary biomechanics training course with students from engineering and physiotherapy and worked together with several students and research associates on various aspects of our research project.

The objective of this project was to investigate the effects of birthing position on pelvic dimensions in a group of non-pregnant, Indian subjects. Clinically-relevant pelvic dimensions are estimated from anatomical landmarks that are digitized using the Vicon motion capture system. Dynamic analysis of motion, including loading at the hip and lumbosacral joints, will help us interpret pelvimetry findings.

It has been an ambitious undertaking and we all continued to work hard refining data collection and processing methods after my initial stay. During my recent follow-up visit we had an opportunity to address some of the many challenges of this project – from the “mundane” data processing issues to the complex dynamics of cross-cultural collaboration. It has been a valuable learning experience and has presented new insights and opportunities; I look forward to further collaboration with Rajani and her colleagues long into the future.

Research collaborators including ISB members Dr. Andrea Hemmerich (far left), Prof. Rajani Mullerpatan (centre right in blue), and Prof. Geneviève Dumas (far right) at the MGM Institute of Health Sciences.

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