Soldier’s weight loads investigated

Kate Snyder and Kate Snyder

Soldiers consistently carrying heavy loads could increase stress on their joints and muscles, causing health problems and early retirement. Brian Campbell, an assistant professor in Kinesiology, hopes to change that. Routinely, military personnel carry up to 150 pounds or more on their back. ‘That’s altering the way you move and subsequently forcing individuals into retirement earlier than they should be,’ Campbell said. Campbell recently started research looking into improving how soldiers carry loads. He worked out an experiment to see how people move under differently positioned weights. Campbell’s goal is to learn if there was a better way to distribute weight loads so soldiers can stay healthier longer. ‘What I’m hoping is that we find that redistributing the load increases the longevity of their work,’ Campbell said. Motion sensors were attached to 72 volunteers’ joints, allowing Campbell and senior Aaron Misiak to feed into a computer how the volunteers’ joints and muscles moved while carrying different weights on their backs and torsos. Misiak helped collect volunteers for the research and interpret the data afterwards. Misiak is a physical therapy major and has known Campbell for a couple of years, and when Campbell shared this research idea, Misiak jumped at the chance to participate. ‘I have a friend in the military and thought this [project] would be close to me,’ Misiak said. On the computer, Campbell and Misiak replicated a stick figure based on the numbers from the motion sensors. ‘We know within a milimeter of accuracy how each joint is moving in a space of three dimensions,’ Campbell said. This research is the first Campbell has done on the movement of soldiers, but his graduate training was aimed at developing ways to improve the movement of children with cerebal palsy. ‘We would know how their body was moving…and suggest changes,’ he said. Research into how soldiers move has been looked at before, though. Joseph Knapik, the directorate of epidemiology and disease surveillance of the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine wrote a paper outlining the broad research of soldiers carrying heavy loads. Knapik outlined how loads were most often carried closest to the body’s center of gravity, despite that heavier loads increased stress on lower legs. Campbell’s own data collecting began in September 2008 and concluded in November, though he was interested in military research for about a year before he began. He said the analysis is ongoing, and will probably continue into late summer. But he is hopeful that his finds will not only help soldiers but others who need to carry heavy loads. ‘It could impact the way schoolkids carry their schoolbreaks, mailman carries mail,’ Campbell said. ‘It doesn’t have to impact the military 100 percent.’