Friday, September 21, 2012

Motion Analysis Research at UNC Charlotte


Athletes all have a unique movement in their sport. It’s in the swing of their forehand, the wind-up of their pitch, the bend of their knee, and their burst off the line. Spectators watch in amazement as these athletes put their bodies through the daily rigor as they compete.

This daily rigor is something Professor Nigel Zheng at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte knows all too well. From the wind-up of the athletes' initial movement and the acceleration of the movement  to deceleration of the movement. Zheng’s Biomechanics and Motion Analysis Lab resides in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Engineering Center for Biomedical Engineering Systems at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and monitors every motion the athlete makes while perfecting their talent.

Zheng has done extensive research in 3-D motion analysis and is using it for the prevention of musculoskeletal disability and disease due to abnormal motion in athletes. Zheng studies biomechanics and motion analysis -- in other words, the physics of human body movements -- in his lab.



Pitcher being analyzed in Zheng's lab.
Each individual athlete’s movements are monitored using computerized quantitative analysis and motion sensors. The motion sensors are placed throughout the athlete’s body to examine the athlete’s positioning and movement throughout the entire exercise. The motion sensor lab, which includes several high-speed cameras, sensory devices, and computer hook-ups, is extremely fascinating. Watching each athlete through the eyes of the computer screen allows you to see the precise movements of each joint, bone and muscle.

In addition to his sophisticated use of  technology, Zheng’s passion for his research resonates throughout his discoveries. Zheng uses the motion analysis lab to detect abnormal motion in various athletic movements including (but not limited to) wind up rotations, strides, arm cocking, arm acceleration, arm deceleration -- movements that are used by pitchers, golfers, tennis players, and other athletes who use their upper body. In addition to these movements Zheng also studies the follow-through of the entire motion, shoulder rotations, knee angles and trunk tilt angles, to name a few.

The results of this study are compared to a national database of collegiate and professional athletes. This research is particularly important for identifying and treating sports injuries in athletes with prolonged discomfort.  

Zheng’s fascination with sports medicine began in his early years as an undergraduate student studying engineering. There his fascination with how things were built and worked quickly transitioned into his passion for the movements of the human body. Zheng carried this passion through med school and his career in the medical profession but his curiosity for the developing science has landed him back in the classroom and researching the very things he is passionate about.

“My research starts with a single question of how does this work,” Zheng said. Once the question is posed ,the next step is following through with the several possible answers to the question. “This is where the motion lab comes to life,” Zheng says.

“Students come to me with ideas and questions, we take those questions and turn them into research,” Zheng added.

Zheng’s research in the motion lab currently includes several amazing projects. In addition to studying athletes Zheng also studies geriatrics and the movements of his elderly clients. Zheng looks at body movements such as shoulder rotations and hip rotations and how these movements lead to discomfort in his aging clientele.

Everyday movements such as driving a car can become more complex as we age, according to Zheng, and the studies of these everyday movements may help find ways that elderly patients can cope with these ailments.  

To learn more about Zheng’s current and evolving research, publications, and classes taught visit his website: http://coefs.uncc.edu/nzheng/

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