BackgroundIn persons post-stroke, diminished ankle joint function can contribute to inadequate gait propulsion. To target paretic ankle impairments, we developed a neuromechanics-based powered ankle exoskeleton. Specifically, this exoskeleton supplies plantarflexion assistance that is proportional to the user’s paretic soleus electromyography (EMG) amplitude only during a phase of gait when the stance limb is subjected to an anteriorly directed ground reaction force (GRF). The purpose of this feasibility study was to examine the short-term effects of the powered ankle exoskeleton on the mechanics and energetics of gait.MethodsFive subjects with stroke walked with a powered ankle exoskeleton on the paretic limb for three 5 minute sessions. We analyzed the peak paretic ankle plantarflexion moment, paretic ankle positive work, symmetry of GRF propulsion impulse, and net metabolic power.ResultsThe exoskeleton increased the paretic plantarflexion moment by 16% during the powered walking trials relative to unassisted walking condition (p < .05). Despite this enhanced paretic ankle moment, there was no significant increase in paretic ankle positive work, or changes in any other mechanical variables with the powered assistance. The exoskeleton assistance appeared to reduce the net metabolic power gradually with each 5 minute repetition, though no statistical significance was found. In three of the subjects, the paretic soleus activation during the propulsion phase of stance was reduced during the powered assistance compared to unassisted walking (35% reduction in the integrated EMG amplitude during the third powered session).ConclusionsThis feasibility study demonstrated that the exoskeleton can enhance paretic ankle moment. Future studies with greater sample size and prolonged sessions are warranted to evaluate the effects of the powered ankle exoskeleton on overall gait outcomes in persons post-stroke.Electronic supplementary materialThe online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12984-015-0015-7) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
Measuring biomechanical work performed by humans and other animals is critical for understanding muscle-tendon function, jointspecific contributions and energy-saving mechanisms during locomotion. Inverse dynamics is often employed to estimate jointlevel contributions, and deformable body estimates can be used to study work performed by the foot. We recently discovered that these commonly used experimental estimates fail to explain whole-body energy changes observed during human walking. By re-analyzing previously published data, we found that about 25% (8 J) of total positive energy changes of/about the body's center-of-mass and >30% of the energy changes during the Push-off phase of walking were not explained by conventional joint-and segment-level work estimates, exposing a gap in our fundamental understanding of work production during gait. Here, we present a novel Energy-Accounting analysis that integrates various empirical measures of work and energy to elucidate the source of unexplained biomechanical work. We discovered that by extending conventional 3 degree-of-freedom (DOF) inverse dynamics (estimating rotational work about joints) to 6DOF (rotational and translational) analysis of the hip, knee, ankle and foot, we could fully explain the missing positive work. This revealed that Push-off work performed about the hip may be >50% greater than conventionally estimated (9.3 versus 6.0 J, P=0.0002, at 1.4 m s −1). Our findings demonstrate that 6DOF analysis (of hipknee-ankle-foot) better captures energy changes of the body than more conventional 3DOF estimates. These findings refine our fundamental understanding of how work is distributed within the body, which has implications for assistive technology, biomechanical simulations and potentially clinical treatment.
The human foot and ankle system is equipped with structures that can produce mechanical work through elastic (e.g., Achilles tendon, plantar fascia) or viscoelastic (e.g., heel pad) mechanisms, or by active muscle contractions. Yet, quantifying the work distribution among various subsections of the foot and ankle can be difficult, in large part due to a lack of objective methods for partitioning the forces acting underneath the stance foot. In this study, we deconstructed the mechanical work production during barefoot walking in a segment-by-segment manner (hallux, forefoot, hindfoot, and shank). This was accomplished by isolating the forces acting within each foot segment through controlling the placement of the participants’ foot as it contacted a ground-mounted force platform. Combined with an analysis that incorporated non-rigid mechanics, we quantified the total work production distal to each of the four isolated segments. We found that various subsections within the foot and ankle showed disparate work distribution, particularly within structures distal to the hindfoot. When accounting for all sources of positive and negative work distal to the shank (i.e., ankle joint and all foot structures), these structures resembled an energy-neutral system that produced net mechanical work close to zero (−0.012 ± 0.054 J/kg).
Previous studies of human locomotion indicate that foot and ankle structures can interact in complex ways. The structure of the foot defines the input and output lever arms that influences the force-generating capacity of the ankle plantar flexors during push-off. At the same time, deformation of the foot may dissipate some of the mechanical energy generated by the plantar flexors during push-off. We investigated this foot-ankle interplay during walking by adding stiffness to the foot through shoes and insoles, and characterized the resulting changes in in vivo soleus muscle-tendon mechanics using ultrasonography. Added stiffness decreased energy dissipation at the foot (p < 0.001) and increased the gear ratio (i.e., ratio of ground reaction force and plantar flexor muscle lever arms) (p < 0.001). Added foot stiffness also altered soleus muscle behaviour, leading to greater peak force (p < 0.001) and reduced fascicle shortening speed (p < 0.001). Despite this shift in force-velocity behaviour, the whole-body metabolic cost during walking increased with added foot stiffness (p < 0.001). This increased metabolic cost is likely due to the added force demand on the plantar flexors, as walking on a more rigid foot/shoe surface compromises the plantar flexors’ mechanical advantage.
Changes in running strike pattern affect ankle and knee mechanics, but little is known about the influence of strike pattern on the joints distal to the ankle. The purpose of this study was to explore the effects of forefoot strike (FFS) and rearfoot strike (RFS) running patterns on foot kinematics and kinetics, from the perspectives of the midtarsal locking theory and the windlass mechanism. Per the midtarsal locking theory, we hypothesized that the ankle would be more inverted in early stance when using a FFS, resulting in decreased midtarsal joint excursions and increased dynamic stiffness. Associated with a more engaged windlass mechanism, we hypothesized that a FFS would elicit increased metatarsophalangeal joint excursions and negative work in late stance. Eighteen healthy female runners ran overground with both FFS and RFS patterns. Instrumented motion capture and a validated multi-segment foot model were used to analyze midtarsal and metatarsophalangeal joint kinematics and kinetics. During early stance in FFS the ankle was more inverted, with concurrently decreased midtarsal eversion (p < 0.001) and abduction excursions (p = 0.003) but increased dorsiflexion excursion (p = 0.005). Dynamic midtarsal stiffness did not differ (p = 0.761). During late stance in FFS, metatarsophalangeal extension was increased (p = 0.009), with concurrently increased negative work (p < 0.001). In addition, there was simultaneously increased midtarsal positive work (p < 0.001), suggesting enhanced power transfer in FFS. Clear evidence for the presence of midtarsal locking was not observed in either strike pattern during running. However, the windlass mechanism appeared to be engaged to a greater extent during FFS.
Prosthetic feet are designed to store energy during early stance and then release a portion of that energy during late stance. The usefulness of providing more energy return depends on whether or not that energy transfers up the lower limb to aid in whole body propulsion. This research examined how increasing prosthetic foot energy return affected walking mechanics across various slopes. Five people with a uni-lateral transtibial amputation walked on an instrumented treadmill at 1.1 m/s for three conditions (level ground, +7.5°, −7.5°) while wearing a prosthetic foot with a novel linkage system and a traditional energy storage and return foot. The novel foot demonstrated greater range of motion (p = 0.0012), and returned more energy (p = 0.023) compared to the traditional foot. The increased energy correlated with an increase in center of mass (CoM) energy change during propulsion from the prosthetic limb (p = 0.012), and the increased prosthetic limb propulsion correlated to a decrease in CoM energy change (i.e., collision) on the sound limb (p < 0.001). These data indicate that this novel foot was able to return more energy than a traditional prosthetic foot and that this additional energy was used to increase whole body propulsion.
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