A cross-sectional study of the effects of load carriage on running characteristics and tibial mechanical stress: implications for stress-fracture injuries in women

BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2017 Mar 23;18(1):125. doi: 10.1186/s12891-017-1481-9.


Background: Load carriage is associated with musculoskeletal injuries, such as stress fractures, during military basic combat training. By investigating the influence of load carriage during exercises on the kinematics and kinetics of the body and on the biomechanical responses of bones, such as the tibia, we can quantify the role of load carriage on bone health.

Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional study using an integrated musculoskeletal-finite-element model to analyze how the amount of load carriage in women affected the kinematics and kinetics of the body, as well as the tibial mechanical stress during running. We also compared the biomechanics of walking (studied previously) and running under various load-carriage conditions.

Results: We observed substantial changes in both hip kinematics and kinetics during running when subjects carried a load. Relative to those observed during running without load, the joint reaction forces at the hip increased by an average of 49.1% body weight when subjects carried a load that was 30% of their body weight (ankle, 4.8%; knee, 20.6%). These results indicate that the hip extensor muscles in women are the main power generators when running with load carriage. When comparing running with walking, finite element analysis revealed that the peak tibial stress during running (tension, 90.6 MPa; compression, 136.2 MPa) was more than three times as great as that during walking (tension, 24.1 MPa; compression, 40.3 MPa), whereas the cumulative stress within one stride did not differ substantially between running (15.2 MPa · s) and walking (13.6 MPa · s).

Conclusions: Our findings highlight the critical role of hip extensor muscles and their potential injury in women when running with load carriage. More importantly, our results underscore the need to incorporate the cumulative effect of mechanical stress when evaluating injury risk under various exercise conditions. The results from our study help to elucidate the mechanisms of stress fracture in women.

Keywords: Finite element analysis; Load carriage; Running mechanics; Stress fracture; Tibial mechanical stress.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Ankle Joint / physiology
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Electromyography
  • Female
  • Finite Element Analysis
  • Fractures, Stress / etiology*
  • Hip / anatomy & histology
  • Humans
  • Knee Joint / physiology
  • Military Personnel
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology
  • Running / physiology*
  • Stress, Mechanical*
  • Tibia / physiology*
  • Tibial Fractures / etiology*
  • Walking / physiology*
  • Weight-Bearing