University of Pennsylvania researchers have created a musculoskeletal model of the body, treating bones as “balls” and muscles as “springs.” They suggest it could help clinicians and physical therapists predict compensatory injuries and offer ways of avoiding them.

“People who study biomechanics tend to focus on a single part of the body—the shoulder, the wrist, or the knee,” says research leader Danielle Bassett from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, in a media release.

“Because that knowledge is so localized, they don’t have a way of connecting it to the rest of the body or to think about compensatory injuries that are far away.

“We actually had to go back to ‘Gray’s Anatomy‘-type texts. It was a long, painstaking effort figuring out which bone connects to which muscle and collating that data into a full network.”

Even in its highly abstract form, this network provides a picture of how forces are transmitted throughout the musculoskeletal system.

“We can say, ‘if this is the muscle you injured, here are the other muscles we should be most worried about,'” Bassett adds.

The researchers also compared their network to the “motor homunculus,” a way of mapping specific brain regions to the parts of the body they control, the release continues.

“We saw that the more impact that a muscle has on the rest of the body, the more real estate we use in our brain to control it,” Bassett shares. “We think it’s a way for us to maintain robustness in those muscles—if a muscle can have a massive impact on the rest of the body, you don’t want any error in controlling it.”

Future work will refine the network, adding more realistic masses for individual bones and stretchiness for individual muscles. The modeling of tendons, and muscles that have more complicated flexing behaviors, will also be improved, the release concludes.

The study was published recently in PLOS Biology.

[Source(s): PLOS, Science Daily]