Joint stiffness of the ankle and the knee in running

J Biomech. 2002 Nov;35(11):1459-74. doi: 10.1016/s0021-9290(02)00183-5.


The spring-mass model is a valid fundament to understand global dynamics of fast legged locomotion under gravity. The underlying concept of elasticity, implying leg stiffness as a crucial parameter, is also found on lower motor control levels, i.e. in muscle-reflex and muscle-tendon systems. Therefore, it seems reasonable that global leg stiffness emerges from local elasticity established by appropriate joint torques. A recently published model of an elastically operating, segmented leg predicts that proper adjustment of joint elasticities to the leg geometry and initial conditions of ground contact provides internal leg stability. Another recent study suggests that in turn the leg segmentation and the initial conditions may be a consequence of metabolic and bone stress constraints. In this study, the theoretical predictions were verified experimentally with respect to initial conditions and elastic joint characteristics in human running. Kinematics and kinetics were measured and the joint torques were estimated by inverse dynamics. Stiffnesses and elastic nonlinearities describing the resulting joint characteristics were extracted from parameter fits. Our results clearly support the theoretical predictions: the knee joint is always stiffer and more extended than the ankle joint. Moreover, the knee torque characteristic on the average shows the higher nonlinearity. According to literature, the leg geometry is a consequence of metabolic and material stress limitations. Adapted to this given geometry, the initial joint angle conditions in fast locomotion are a compromise between metabolic and control effort minimisation. Based on this adaptation, an appropriate joint stiffness ratio between ankle and knee passively safeguards the internal leg stability. The identified joint nonlinearities contribute to the linearisation of the leg spring.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Ankle Joint / physiology*
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Elasticity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Knee Joint / physiology*
  • Leg / physiology*
  • Male
  • Models, Biological*
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Nonlinear Dynamics
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Running / physiology*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Sports / physiology
  • Statistics as Topic
  • Stress, Mechanical
  • Torque