Biomechanical analysis of horticultural digging

Barbara May, James Shippen

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Biomechanical analysis of horticultural digging

This paper applies biomechanical analysis and musculoskeletal modelling within a horticultural setting. The study was intended to explore the potential for biomechanics to contribute towards our understanding of good and bad body positioning in relation to horticultural activities in order to minimise injury risks.

Significant numbers of people engage in gardening as a popular pastime or are employed in the wider horticultural industry (landscaping, etc). Gardening has been described as a moderately rigorous form of exercise and the musculoskeletal demands of gardening are considered substantial. These factors have led to an increased interest in the use of gardening as a form of exercise and a health intervention. However, it is noted that the risk of injury associated with physical exercise in general is of concern and it is considered that this injury risk can be extended into professional and amateur horticulturalists undertaking a variety of gardening tasks.

Horticulture is suitable for analysis where the primary objective may be injury avoidance and increasing the efficiency of the horticulturalists undertaking gardening tasks. Abnormal patterns of gardening movement may be self-sustaining and reinforced over time by repetition and be the cause of potential injury risk. It is known that muscle fatigue reduces the force capabilities of a muscle and that excessive force magnitudes and/or repetitious forces may surpass the capacity and recovery limits of muscles which may result in fatigue or injury.

The digging movement of horticulturists was measured using a 3-dimensional motion capture system and all the data collected was analysed using Biomechanics of Bodies (BoB) analysis code written in MATLAB. The joint angle time histories of the horticulturists were calculated from the motion capture data and used to articulate a musculoskeletal model of the subjects. The joint torques were calculated using inverse dynamics methods from which the individual muscle loads were established using a cost function minimisation approach. Finally the joint contact forces were calculated including the muscle forces.

The motion capture data of digging trials were observed by a team of horticulturalists and physiotherapist who identified trials demonstrating good and bad practice. It was found that the joint torques and contact forces, and their variability, were lower in the trials which were identified as good practice than those displaying bad practice. This suggests this technology could be used to better understand the impact of horticultural tasks on the body in order to minimise risk to human health.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWorld Congress of Biomechanics
Pages(in press)
Volume(in press)
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jul 2018
EventWorld Congress of Biomechanics - Dublin, Ireland
Duration: 8 Jul 201812 Jul 2018
Conference number: 8


ConferenceWorld Congress of Biomechanics
Internet address


  • Biomechanics
  • health
  • digging


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