We study how and why the human body is the way it is in both the field and the laboratory. Much of our research focuses on physical activities and how they relate to musculoskeletal health.
We use a largely model-driven evolutionary approach to studying the evolution and relevance of human physical activities. That means we develop and test biomechanical and physiological models of how the human musculoskeletal system evolved to perform important physical activities like walking, running, carrying and other activities. Many of the activities we study are relevant to human health and disease.
Key activities we are currently studying include: standing, walking, running, carrying, digging, throwing, sitting and chewing.
We study these activities literally from head to toe including: feet, knees, the pelvis, the spine, the shoulders, the arms and the head. We also study the physiology of physical activity including metabolism, growth and repair, and inflammation.
The methods we use integrate a variety of experimental techniques including high speed 3D kinematics, kinetics, electromyography, strain gauges, and respirometry. We also use numerous imaging methodologies including CT, ultrasound, MRI, and histology.
Current projects include:
- The effects of shoes on the development and function of the foot
- Biomechanics of walking and running (especially the foot)
- Biomechanics of ventilation during physical activity
- Effects of bone metabolism on bone growth
- How physical activity affects inflammation and metabolism
- Adaptations for ventilation during walking and running
- Upper body function during walking and running
- Head stabilization during locomotion
- The biomechanics of carrying
- The biomechanics of digging
- The biomechanics of throwing
Many of the above research questions we ask are motivated by an interest in using evolutionary theory and data to find new, better ways to prevent and treat musculoskeletal disease. These currently include:
- Prevention of osteoarthritis
- How variations in shoe design may help prevent flat feet (pes planus) as well as high-arched feet (pes cavus)
- Preventing running injuries
- Treating and preventing lower back pain
- Preventing diseases caused by chronic inflammation
- Understanding cephalopelvic disproportion (when a fetus is too large to pass through the mother’s birth canal)
Since 2009, we have been working in the Nandi Hills and Uasin Gishu Counties, Kenya, primarily in the city of Eldoret and in the rural community of Kobujoi. There we study differences between Kalenjin-speaking people who are traditional subsistence farmers and those who have post-industrial lifestyles. Research questions include differences between barefoot and shod running, the effects of shoes on foot structure and development, how physical activity and muscle strength affects the lumbar lordosis and other aspects of the body, and more. This research is in collaboration with researchers at Moi Medical School, including Prof. Robert Ojiambo and Dr. Paul Okutoyi.
The Tarahumara (Ràràmuri) are among the last Native American peoples who still practice subsistence farming. Since 2012, we have been studying their running biomechanics and we are also now studying musculoskeletal and cardiovascular aging in this population in collaboration with researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (Dr. Aaron Baggish) and the University of British Columbia (Prof. Robert Shave), and with the assistance of Mickey Mahaffey and Silvino Cubesare.