Gender differences in active musculoskeletal stiffness. Part II. Quantification of leg stiffness during functional hopping tasks

J Electromyogr Kinesiol. 2002 Apr;12(2):127-35. doi: 10.1016/s1050-6411(02)00003-2.


Leg stiffness was compared between age-matched males and females during hopping at preferred and controlled frequencies. Stiffness was defined as the linear regression slope between the vertical center of mass (COM) displacement and ground-reaction forces recorded from a force plate during the stance phase of the hopping task. Results demonstrate that subjects modulated the vertical displacement of the COM during ground contact in relation to the square of hopping frequency. This supports the accuracy of the spring-mass oscillator as a representative model of hopping. It also maintained peak vertical ground-reaction load at approximately three times body weight. Leg stiffness values in males (33.9+/-8.7 kN/m) were significantly (p<0.01) greater than in females (26.3+/-6.5 kN/m) at each of three hopping frequencies, 3.0, 2.5 Hz, and a preferred hopping rate. In the spring-mass oscillator model leg stiffness and body mass are related to the frequency of motion. Thus male subjects necessarily recruited greater leg stiffness to drive their heavier body mass at the same frequency as the lighter female subjects during the controlled frequency trials. However, in the preferred hopping condition the stiffness was not constrained by the task because frequency was self-selected. Nonetheless, both male and female subjects hopped at statistically similar preferred frequencies (2.34+/-0.22 Hz), therefore, the females continued to demonstrate less leg stiffness. Recognizing the active muscle stiffness contributes to biomechanical stability as well as leg stiffness, these results may provide insight into the gender bias in risk of musculoskeletal knee injury.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Body Weight
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Knee / physiology
  • Leg / physiopathology*
  • Linear Models
  • Locomotion / physiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Musculoskeletal Physiological Phenomena
  • Sex Characteristics