What is Kinesiology?
Kinesiology is the exploration of human movement and integrates three disciplines: musculoskeletal anatomy (form), neuromuscular physiology (function) and biomechanics. Kinesiology is that area in which these three disciplines intersect (Figure 1). Having a good foundation in these clinical sciences as they relate to soft-tissue treatment is a great starting point. By default, understanding kinesiological principles returns a better understanding of human structure and function.
Your basic education started you out with a solid foundation in muscular anatomy. Soft-tissue therapists should know what the structures are under the skin to which they will be applying soft-tissue treatment. Those working with any level of pain or injuries must know these tissues to have an idea what might be playing a role in their client’s dysfunction.
The clinical knowledge necessary for therapeutic treatment does not stop with muscle names or with muscle attachment sites. In fact, it should not stop with muscles at all, but should progress to ligaments, tendons, nerve and fascia – the other soft-tissues often needing to be addressed in various conditions. While muscle tissue is the most common structure soft-tissue therapists work with, it is by no means the only cause of soft-issue pain. If you are not aware of other soft-tissues that may produce pain, you will miss important characteristics of the client’s condition.
While anatomy is the study of structure, physiology is the study of function. The second key element of kinesiology is the function of the locomotor tissues, specifically the neuromuscular connection. Movement occurs because of neurological impulses delivered to muscles causing them to contract. When there is a disruption or irregularity in neuromuscular activity or control, movement disorders and pain can result.
Massage treatments frequently incorporate this fundamental understanding of neuromuscular physiology even though you might not be aware of it. Consider the way in which PNF stretching takes advantage of neuromuscular control principles such as post-isometric relaxation. Other methods such as active isolated stretching rely upon specific positions so as not to initiate the neuromuscular stretch reflex. The client who has postural dysfunction and painful trigger points is treated with methods based on physiological principles of how to best deactivate and neutralize these dysfunctional trigger points.
Biomechanics is the third intersecting clinical science of kinesiology. It is the study of structure and function of biological systems through mechanical physics, basically the study of physical forces. It is sometimes confused with body mechanics, which one learns in applying massage strokes. Performing biomechanical analysis requires an understanding of both anatomy and physiology.
To determine how a structure might respond to various mechanical forces, you must be familiar with its physiological characteristics in response to mechanical stress. Evaluating a soft-tissue injury requires exploring the forces applied to the body during injury or activity: their direction, velocity and intensity. Through this mechanical analysis, the practitioner evaluates whether those forces were sufficient to cause specific tissue injuries and consequently how those tissues should be treated.
There are five types of force that can be applied to soft tissues of the body, but only two play a dominant role in most soft-tissue injuries. The five types of force are compression, tension, torsion, bending and shear. Most soft-tissue injuries result from an excess of either compression or tension forces or a combination. The ability to identify type and magnitude of different forces acting on the body is a key aspect of biomechanics that is essential for rehabilitation science.