Muybridge and the Science of Biomechanics

An illustration of the Glass Cage, from Charles Ducroquet’s Walking and Limping: A Study of Normal and Pathological Walking (JB Lipincott Co. 1965)

Biomechanics has taken many long strides since Muybridge’s pioneering photography, which does not always receive the scientific credit that it deserves.

The important scientific nature of Muybridge’s work is often misrepresented and sometimes totally dismissed. Although the scientific aspects were to some degree supervised at the University of Pennyslvania, his work for Stanford at Palo Alto (despite the later involvement of Dr. Stillman) was not. And it was here that Muybridge’s first significant scientific work was undertaken and successfully achieved.

Much has been made in recent writings about the grids used at Pennsylvania, dismissing them as ‘unscientific’ – and unsupportable statements made that his use of multiple cameras was ‘unscientific’ compared with the use of a single-lens camera by Marey, today’s writers making statements apparently based on the subjective writings and comments of Muybridge’s contemporaries. We shall be examining these subjects in later blog postings.

In the meantime, it’s good to see that the Helios exhibition in Washington has attracted some attention from modern practitioners of biomedical science, such as the following, extracted from the blog of prominent sports podiatrist Stephen Pribut.

Muybridge: Art, Motion and Biomechanics
by pribut on August 3, 2010

“An exhibition titled ‘Helios: Eadweard Muybridge in a Time of Change’  at the Corcoran displaying Muybridge’s groundbreaking photography and motion studies has just concluded. I had the joy of spending a few hours at the exhibit in close study…

Artists and scientists have long had an interest in human anatomy and motion. Over the last 50 years, movement and gait have been analyzed using gait plates, computer force distribution systems, electromyogram (EMG) and video. When, where and how did modern analytic methods develop? What was their antecedent? Most textbooks and articles are skimpy at best about much of the early history of the study of locomotion and movement.

The science of  biomechanics has forgotten about the 19th century developments that made for rapid progress in the last 100 years. The historical memories of biomechanics seem to start in the 20th century with Morton’s observations, and Elftman, Inman and Mann’s theories. [1] Artists, however, remember Muybridge,  and going further back, it is clear that Michelangelo was deeply interested in anatomy and Leonardo (performed dissections and) wanted to know how everything worked. Along the way to the present, many other artists and scientists studied and observed animal and human movement. But until the late 19th century there was no technology available to capture data and information of movement.

Eadweard Muybridge  (1830-1904) was the first to systematically develop equipment and techniques to photograph the movement of quadripedal and bipedal gait along with a variety of other movements, motions, and human athletic activities…. both the methodical study of movement and a film industry had their beginnings with the work of Muybridge.

Muybridge’s work has often been discounted as merely “art”, but it was an important qualitative look at movement. Diagrams in modern texts detailing varieties of normal and abnormal gait look like they were sketched from his plates or photographed using methods similar to his… Clearly there is inspiration, emotion, and art in his work, but using the scientific analysis and invention he was at the forefront in creating techniques that were later used to quantify motion and gait analysis. Look for more details on Muybridge on my main website in the near future.”

[1. The following note, brief details of some of the work of the researchers mentioned by Dr. Pribut, has been added by Stephen Herbert]

Herbert Elftman, Department of Anatomy, Columbia University, New York, N. Y. – ‘Body Dynamics and Dynamic Anthropometry’, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Volume 63 Issue Dynamic Anthropometry, Pages 553 – 558 (1955). Published Online: 15 Dec 2006

Verne Thompson Inman, Human Walking. (Williams and Wilkins, Baltimore: London 1981). Inman, VT, Ralston, HJ, and Todd, Frank .

Roger A. Mann, M.D. and John Hagy, O.R.E.
‘Biomechanics of walking, running, and sprinting’, American Journal of Sports Medicine, September 1980 vol. 8 no. 5 345-350

Sports Podiatrist, Stephen Pribut, D.P.M. hosts one of the first sports medicine injury websites, which has been online since 1995. The site focuses primarily on Running Injuries. Dr. Pribut is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Surgery and faculty member of the George Washington University Medical School. Dr. Pribut’s sports podiatric medicine practice is located in Washington, DC. He is a past president of the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine.

Stephen Pribut was the Chief Internet Engineer of the American Podiatric Medical Association and responsible for all aspects of the APMA’s Internet undertakings including online continuing medical education, web design, usability, information architecture, streaming media, and server installation and maintenance on multiple platforms. His early interest in the Internet for communication, information transfer, and knowledge based services continues with both the traditional web and Web 2.0 Social Media. Dr. Pribut has written and lectured on a variety of articles on athletic injuries, and biomechanics, and lectures both locally and nationally. He has published extensively on both medical and Internet related topics.

Professional memberships include the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

A note on the illustration used at the top of this blog post:

Charles Ducroquet, a Paris physician, spent the better part of his life studying limping. He took films in the open air, processing them himself, while the patient waited. Later, he inspired his sons to continue the work, culminating in the book Walking and Limping: A study of Normal and Pathological Walking (JB Lipincott Co. 1965).

See also: The Science of Walking and Running

Posted here by Stephen Herbert