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Motion-Picture Power

Our motion analysis centers utilize some of the same technology used in major motion pictures.

How horses played a role in gait analysis and treating cerebral palsy

Do horses lift all four feet off the ground when they run? Finding the answer to this question led to the technology used today to treat children with cerebral palsy (CP) and other orthopedic conditions. 

In the early 1860s, California Governor Leland Stanford wanted to settle a debate about how horses run. He turned to photographer Eadweard Muybridge for help. The result was a groundbreaking series of photos that made news around the world and proved Stanford right: Horses did, at times, have all four feet off the ground. The images led to more photographic experiments, including photos of a woman with CP walking. Muybridge eventually became the father of motion pictures. 

Advancements in imagery

Over the decades, advances in computer imaging technology have greatly improved gait analysis – the assessment of how a patient moves. Jon Davids, M.D., director of the Motion Analysis Laboratory and assistant chief of orthopedic surgery at Shriners Children’s Northern California, was one of the early pioneers of this technology, becoming a gait analysis research and treatment global leader. 

Motion analysis centers in 14 Shriners Children’s locations use high-level technology, infrared cameras and advanced computer programing to assess CP patients before and after surgery and other treatments. 

It’s a chance for young patients to feel like action figures in a movie. First, markers are attached to their bodies to track their movements, and then they’re filmed by infrared cameras as they move and walk. Hollywood uses the same technology to create special effects in films such as Lord of the Rings, Avatar, Polar Express and the newer Marvel movies. 

Next step: Cellphone videos

What’s in store for this incredible technology that started with a series of horse photos? With computer programs, apps and smart phone videos, ongoing patient assessment can be done with fewer trips to the hospital. 

“Not everyone can get to a gait lab, but almost everyone has a cellphone, and you can make videos of children walking,” Dr. Davids said. “These advances will make life-changing care accessible to many more children, meaning we can help improve many more lives.”