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Lower-limb biomechanics during stair descent: influence of step-height and body mass

Spanjaard, Marcel and Reeves, Neil D. and Dieën, Jaap H. van and Baltzopoulos, Vasilios and Maganaris, Constantinos N. (2008) Lower-limb biomechanics during stair descent: influence of step-height and body mass. Journal of experimental biology, 211 (9). pp. 1368-75. ISSN 0022-0949

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Abstract

The aim of the present study was to examine the biomechanics of the lower limb during stair descent and the effects of increasing demand in two ways: by increasing step-height and by increasing body mass. Ten male subjects walked down a four-step staircase, the height of which could be altered. The step-heights were: standard (17 cm), 50% decreased, 50% increased and 75% increased. At the standard height, subjects also walked down wearing a weighted jacket carrying 20% extra body mass. Lower limb kinematics and kinetics were determined using motion capture and ground reaction forces. Also measured were gastrocnemius medialis (GM) muscle electromyography and GM muscle fascicle length using ultrasonography. GM muscle fascicles actively shortened during the touch-down phase of stair descent in all conditions, while the muscle-tendon complex (MTC), as calculated from the knee and ankle joint kinematics, lengthened. The GM muscle fascicles shortened more when step-height was increased, which corresponded to the increase in ankle joint moment. Increased body mass did not alter the ankle or knee joint moment in the first contact phase of a step down; due to a change in strategy, the trailing leg, instead of the leading leg, supported the extra mass. Hence, the amount of GM muscle fascicle shortening, during the touch-down phase, also did not change with added body mass. Our results suggest that the increase in joint moments is related to the amount of fascicle shortening, which occurs whilst the MTC is lengthening, thereby stretching the elastic tendinous tissues.

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