Kinematics of the human ankle complex in passive flexion; a single degree of freedom system

J Biomech. 1999 Feb;32(2):111-8. doi: 10.1016/s0021-9290(98)00157-2.


The restoration of original range and pattern of motion is the primary goal of joint replacement and ligament reconstruction. The objective of the present work is to investigate whether or not a preferred path of joint motion at the intact human ankle complex is exhibited during passive flexion. A rig was built to move the ankle complex through its range of flexion while applying only the minimum necessary load to drive ankle flexion. Joint motion was constrained only by the articular surfaces and the ligaments. The movements of the calcaneus, talus and fibula relative to the stationary tibia in seven cadaveric specimens were tracked with a stereophotogrammetric system. It was shown that the calcaneus follows a unique path of unresisted coupled motion relative to the tibia and that most of the motion occurred at the ankle, with little motion at the subtalar level. The calcaneofibular and the tibiocalcaneal ligaments showed near-isometric pattern of rotations. All specimens showed motion of the axis of rotation relative to the bones. Deviations from the unique path due to the application of load involved mostly subtalar motion and were resisted. The ankle complex exhibits one degree of unresisted freedom, the ankle behaving as a single degree of freedom mechanism and the subtalar as a flexible structure. We deduced that the calcaneofibular and tibiocalcaneal ligaments together with the articular surfaces guide ankle passive motion, other ligaments limit but do not guide motion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Ankle Joint / physiology*
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Humans
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Ligaments, Articular / physiology
  • Range of Motion, Articular / physiology*
  • Reference Values
  • Surface Properties