Contributions of the individual ankle plantar flexors to support, forward progression and swing initiation during walking

J Biomech. 2001 Nov;34(11):1387-98. doi: 10.1016/s0021-9290(01)00105-1.


Walking is a motor task requiring coordination of many muscles. Previous biomechanical studies, based primarily on analyses of the net ankle moment during stance, have concluded different functional roles for the plantar flexors. We hypothesize that some of the disparities in interpretation arise because of the effects of the uniarticular and biarticular muscles that comprise the plantar flexor group have not been separated. Furthermore, we believe that an accurate determination of muscle function requires quantification of the contributions of individual plantar flexor muscles to the energetics of individual body segments. In this study, we examined the individual contributions of the ankle plantar flexors (gastrocnemius (GAS); soleus (SOL)) to the body segment energetics using a musculoskeletal model and optimization framework to generate a forward dynamics simulation of normal walking at 1.5 m/s. At any instant in the gait cycle, the contribution of a muscle to support and forward progression was defined by its contribution to trunk vertical and horizontal acceleration, respectively, and its contribution to swing initiation by the mechanical energy it delivers to the leg in pre-swing (i.e., double-leg stance prior to toe-off). GAS and SOL were both found to provide trunk support during single-leg stance and pre-swing. In early single-leg stance, undergoing eccentric and isometric activity, they accelerate the trunk vertically but decelerate forward trunk progression. In mid single-leg stance, while isometric, GAS delivers energy to the leg while SOL decelerates it, and SOL delivers energy to the trunk while GAS decelerates it. In late single-leg stance through pre-swing, though GAS and SOL both undergo concentric activity and accelerate the trunk forward while decelerating the downward motion of the trunk (i.e., providing forward progression and support), they execute different energetic functions. The energy produced from SOL accelerates the trunk forward, whereas GAS delivers almost all its energy to accelerate the leg to initiate swing. Although GAS and SOL maintain or accelerate forward motion in mid single-leg stance through pre-swing, other muscles acting at the beginning of stance contribute comparably to forward progression. In summary, throughout single-leg stance both SOL and GAS provide vertical support, in mid single-leg stance SOL and GAS have opposite energetic effects on the leg and trunk to ensure support and forward progression of both the leg and trunk, and in pre-swing only GAS contributes to swing initiation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Ankle / anatomy & histology
  • Ankle / physiology*
  • Ankle Joint / physiology
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Computer Simulation
  • Gait / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Biological
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Walking / physiology*