Obesity is not associated with increased knee joint torque and power during level walking

J Biomech. 2003 Sep;36(9):1355-62. doi: 10.1016/s0021-9290(03)00119-2.


While it is widely speculated that obesity causes increased loads on the knee leading to joint degeneration, this concept is untested. The purpose of the study was to identify the effects of obesity on lower extremity joint kinetics and energetics during walking. Twenty-one obese adults were tested at self-selected (1.29m/s) and standard speeds (1.50m/s) and 18 lean adults were tested at the standard speed. Motion analysis and force platform data were combined to calculate joint torques and powers during the stance phase of walking. Obese participants were more erect with 12% less knee flexion and 11% more ankle plantarflexion in self-selected compared to standard speeds (both p<0.02). Obese participants were still more erect than lean adults with approximately 6 degrees more extension at all joints (p<0.05, for each joint) at the standard speed. Knee and ankle torques were 17% and 11% higher (p<0.034 and p<0.041) and negative knee work and positive ankle work were 68% and 11% higher (p<0.000 and p<0.048) in obese participants at the standard speed compared to the slower speed. Joint torques and powers were statistically identical at the hip and knee but were 88% and 61% higher (both p<0.000) at the ankle in obese compared to lean participants at the standard speed. Obese participants used altered gait biomechanics and despite their greater weight, they had less knee torque and power at their self-selected walking speed and equal knee torque and power while walking at the same speed as lean individuals. We propose that the ability to reorganize neuromuscular function during gait may enable some obese individuals to maintain skeletal health of the knee joint and this ability may also be a more accurate risk indicator for knee osteoarthritis than body weight.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Ankle Joint / physiopathology
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Gait
  • Hip Joint / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Kinetics
  • Knee Joint / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Obesity / physiopathology*
  • Time Factors
  • Torque
  • Walking*