Active regulation of longitudinal arch compression and recoil during walking and running

J R Soc Interface. 2015 Jan 6;12(102):20141076. doi: 10.1098/rsif.2014.1076.


The longitudinal arch (LA) of the human foot compresses and recoils in response to being cyclically loaded. This has typically been considered a passive process, however, it has recently been shown that the plantar intrinsic foot muscles have the capacity to actively assist in controlling LA motion. Here we tested the hypothesis that intrinsic foot muscles, abductor hallucis (AH), flexor digitorum brevis (FDB) and quadratus plantae (QP), actively lengthen and shorten during the stance phase of gait in response to loading of the foot. Nine participants walked at 1.25 m s⁻¹ and ran at 2.78 and 3.89 m s⁻¹ on a force-instrumented treadmill while foot and ankle kinematics were recorded according to a multisegment foot model. Muscle-tendon unit (MTU) lengths, determined from the foot kinematics, and intramuscular electromyography (EMG) signals were recorded from AH, FDB and QP. Peak EMG amplitude was determined during the stance phase for each participant at each gait velocity. All muscles underwent a process of slow active lengthening during LA compression, followed by a rapid shortening as the arch recoiled during the propulsive phase. Changes in MTU length and peak EMG increased significantly with increasing gait velocity for all muscles. This is the first in vivo evidence that the plantar intrinsic foot muscles function in parallel to the plantar aponeurosis, actively regulating the stiffness of the foot in response to the magnitude of forces encountered during locomotion. These muscles may therefore contribute to power absorption and generation at the foot, limit strain on the plantar aponeurosis and facilitate efficient foot ground force transmission.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Electromyography / methods*
  • Foot / physiology*
  • Gait / physiology
  • Humans
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional
  • Male
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Muscle Contraction
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Running / physiology
  • Stress, Mechanical
  • Tendons / physiology*
  • Walking / physiology