Biomechanics Changes Culture

Jacquelin Perry, MD (1918-2013) – Pioneer of Gait, Biomechanics and the Treatment of Neurological Disorders

Dr. Jacquelin Perry (1959)Jacquelin Perry, M.D. has just passed away at age 94. She was born on May 31, 1918 and died on March 11, 2013.

Dr. Perry was a key researcher in gait and abnormal gait. She was a pioneer as one of the few female orthopedists in the 1950’s becoming board certified in 1958. It is hard to imagine today, but there were only 10% women in her medical school class, 7 out of 76.  She taught at USC Medical School from 1972 until the late 90’s. She worked at Rancho Los Amigos Medical Center in California for many years and was Chief of Pathokinesiology and later Chief of the Biomechanics and Gait Lab among other positions. More recently the Jacquelin Perry Musculoskeletal Biomechanics Laboratory was dedicated in December, 2008

She is best known for her work on polio patients and her 1992 text Gait Analysis: Normal and Pathological Function” became an instant classic. The Salk vaccine, introduced in the mid-1950’s, effectively ended polio in the Western World fairly quickly. Dr. Perry directed her attention to improving a rehabilitation program for spinal cord injury, work on hemiplegia, and children’s neuromuscular disorders including primary muscular dystrophy, myelodysplasia, and cerebral palsy.

Before beginning her medical studies Dr. Perry studied physical therapy and served as a physical therapist in army hospitals during WWII from 1941-1945. She reported that in addition to trauma patients, she had been exposed to polio patients during this time which spurred her interest.

From an early time in her career she began observational gait analysis and worked to codify her observations. Later video and EMG (electromyography) and forceplate observations were added.

Her clinical observations and descriptions of “loading response” were clear and had implications for many biomechanists. She also well described the terminology which led to an emphasis by some on “sagittal plane biomechanics”:

  • Heel RockerRock and Roll - Jacquelin Perry
  • Ankle Rocker
  • and Forefoot Rocker

She is acknowledged often in the physical therapy community. Dr. Perry has inspired many to research in gait and biomechanics. But all biomechanists know of her work and realize the thanks owed to her for her interests, work, inspiration and research. We often have had a more limited acknowledgment of our forebearers but she is certainly a major one in the realm of biomechanics and gait analysis.

While we now have improved measuring devices (in laboratories and sometimes in clinical offices) and we measure and make observations of moments of force in addition to the things we can see, her work has had tremendous impact and has had much value. As Galileo performed visual observation with his telescope long before we could study pulsars, quasars and black holes, Jacquelin Perry worked well with the instruments she had available. Eyes and a brain were among the instruments she often put to good use and was the starting point for much research and treatment. Her life is an inspiration to innovation, passion, dedication, persistence and endurance.