We sought to gain insight into age-related muscular limitations that may restrict the uphill walking ability of old adults. We hypothesized that: (1) old adults would exhibit smaller peak ankle joint kinetics and larger peak hip joint kinetics than young adults during both level and uphill walking and (2) these age-related differences in ankle and hip joint kinetics would be greatest during uphill vs. level walking. We quantified the sagittal plane ankle, knee, and hip joint kinetics of 10 old adults (mean ± SD, age: 72 ± 5 yrs) and 8 young adults (age: 27 ± 5 yrs) walking at 1.25 m/s on a dual-belt, force-measuring treadmill at four grades (0°, +3°, +6°, +9°). As hypothesized, old adults walked with smaller peak ankle joint kinetics (e.g., power generation: -18% at +9°) and larger peak hip joint kinetics (e.g., power generation: +119% at +9°) than young adults, most evident during the late stance phase of both level and uphill conditions. Old adults performed two to three times more single support positive work than young adults via muscles crossing the knee. In partial support of our second hypothesis, the age-related reduction in peak ankle joint moments was greater during uphill (-0.41 Nm/kg) vs. level (-0.30 Nm/kg) walking. However, old adults that exhibited reduced propulsive ankle function during level walking could perform 44% more trailing leg positive ankle joint work to walk uphill. Our findings indicate that maintaining ankle power generation and trailing leg propulsive function should be the primary focus of "prehabilitation" strategies for old adults to preserve their uphill walking ability.
Keywords: Elderly; Incline; Kinetics; Locomotion; Prehabilitation.
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