Can a STEM Perspective Deepen Our Appreciation of Human Movement?

The acronym STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, four deeply intertwined fields. Looking at human movement through the lens of these four fields can offer insight and a deeper understanding of the intricacies of the human body, enhancing the rehabilitation professional’s appreciation of the body and the ways in which it moves.

In this article, we’ll look at human movement through the lenses of Science and Technology. In a future article, we’ll follow up with an exploration of human movement through the lenses of Engineering and Mathematics.


Science is the cornerstone of all we do, allowing us to better understand the physical principles that govern movement. For instance, cellular biology explains how we can maintain an erect posture when the rigid bony structure of our skeleton is only connected by soft tissues.1

The brain and central nervous system regulate muscle tone, and resting muscle tone gives our bodies the ability to be upright. Without resting muscle tone, we would crumple to the ground as a heap of bones within a bag of skin. By upregulating and downregulating muscle tone, the CNS creates the rigidity necessary for higher-level movements, such as sport, and then returns us to a resting state after the movements are complete. This theory of organismic support originated within the field of cellular biology and can be effectively applied to the human organism.

As rehab professionals, we need to be skeptical of new ideas and seek out evidence, but we also need to embrace the ideas that the physical sciences have applied to nature for centuries. The various scientific fields have allowed us to unlock new ideas and look at what we know through different lenses.


I embrace evidence-based practice. I believe that when sound evidence exists, it should help direct patient care. It is clear to me that the tests and measures we currently use to develop new evidence are lacking, particularly with regard to human movement and sports performance.

Because sports performance is such a complex system, we can’t study issues like injury prevention at slow speeds or utilize maneuvers that aren’t seen in the sport itself. A recent article tackled this issue head on, pulling no punches in the title: “Why Screening Tests to Predict Injury Do Not Work—and Probably Never Will: A Critical Review.”2

Technology must be developed that can measure high speed movement across multiple planes and ranges of motion. We need the ability to capture the complex spiraling that occurs with human movement and the body’s effort to attenuate ground reaction forces.

We see this in the current work of researchers developing a novel approach to measure hip ROM in soccer players.3 By performing a thorough needs analysis of the kicking motion, they determined that the classical method of measuring hip ROM doesn’t take into account the body’s need to spiral itself to gain the energy needed to kick a ball. This global understanding of the dynamic integration of the kinetic chain (covered here in my MedBridge course) led the researchers to design this new method to measure hip ROM.

Now, technological advancements to capture, record, and measure these types of positions across three planes and at high speeds are needed. These advancements will establish the data that will eventually lead to evidence we can translate to sport. This is an example of how clinical innovation sometimes precedes actual evidence to support its use. As William Blake once said, “What is now proven was once only imagined.”

Looking Forward

As we look at human movement through the lenses of Engineering and Mathematics, we’ll return to this research on hip ROM. Make sure to check back so you don’t miss out on further analysis and movement appreciation!

  1. Ingber, D.E., Wang, N., and Stamenovic, D. (2014). Tensegrity, cellular biophysics, and the mechanics of living systems. Reports on Progress in Physics, 77(4): 046603.
  2. Bahr, R. (2016). Why screening tests to predict injury do not work—and probably never will…: a critical review. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 50: 776-780.
  3. Tak, I., Glasgow, P., Langhout, R., Weir, A., Kerkhoffs, G., Agricola, R. (2016). Hip range of motion is lower in professional soccer players with hip and groin symptoms or previous injuries, independent of cam deformities. American Journal of Sports Medicine, 44(3): 682-688.