Our expertise is in the neuromuscular biomechanics of human movement, with a special emphasis on aging and disease-related mobility impairment. Our primary research seeks to discover the musculoskeletal and sensorimotor adaptations that underlie a loss of independent mobility, and to introduce creative new approaches for preserving walking ability and preventing falls. We use a highly integrative approach that combines quantitative motion analysis and electromyography with dynamic ultrasound imaging, computational simulation, and virtual reality.
At any given time, we have numerous active and ongoing research projects being conducted in our laboratory. Many of these are highly inter-disciplinary and performed in collaboration with colleagues in Exercise and Sports Science, Physical Therapy, Orthopaedics, Biostatistics, Neurology, Geriatrics, Public Health, and Neurosurgery. Ultimately, our research seeks to address four pivotal challenges faced by those in our older adult population:
Ultrasound imaging to guide wearable technologies for enhance mobility in aging
This project introduces a novel, neuromechanical explanation for age-related reductions in walking performance and economy that will be leveraged to investigate the efficacy of biologically-inspired ankle exoskeletons to improve gait performance and reduce metabolic energy cost during walking in older adults. Ultimately, this project will facilitate the use of dynamic tissue imaging for optimal prescription of assistive technology to improve locomotor function in our rapidly aging population.
Perturbation systems to characterize neuromuscular vulnerability, instability, and falls
We have developed a suite of sensory and mechanical balance perturbation systems designed to emulate balance challenges that may precipitate a fall in the community. These include immersive virtual reality environments, motor-driven force fields, treadmill-induced slip controllers, and computer-guided laser projection systems. We leverage this infrastructure to gain previously inaccessible insight into standing and walking instability due to age or neurodegenerative disease.
Characterizing the multi-scale neuromechanics of early onset and age-related osteoarthritis
We are exploring an innovative line of research at the interface of muscle imaging, movement biomechanics, cartilage tissue mechanics, and inflammatory biomarkers to help improve our understanding of the mechanistic pathways contributing to the pathogenesis of osteoarthritis.
A framework for feasible translation to enhance foot neuromechanics in aging and mobility
We are investigating the extent to which hallmark age-associated deficits in push-off intensity during walking originate interdependently with those in the active, passive, and structural regulation of foot mechanical power. The goal of this project is to establish a much-needed paradigm shift in our biomechanical understanding and clinical management of age-related mobility impairment toward feasible and cost-effective devices to modify foot structure and function in aging
Peripheral motor synergies as a neuromuscular mechanism for age-related falls risk
We posit that all individuals rely on a principal number of peripheral neuromuscular commands (i.e., # of motor modules) to successfully preserve balance during everyday walking tasks during which falls may occur. Our early evidence implicates a very specific and innovative feature of neuromuscular control as a mechanism for age-associated balance impairment and risk of falls.
Establishing cause-effect relations between biomechanical impairment and metabolism
We are strategically combining experimental biofeedback paradigms, quantitative motion capture, and state-of-the-art bioenergetic modeling and simulation to quantify the association between functionally limiting biomechanical impairments and higher metabolic energy costs that can accelerate fatigue and limit independence. Our goal is to identify muscle-level targets for rehabilitation and assistive technologies to improve walking economy and delay the onset or slow the progression of local muscle fatigue.