The neuromuscular demands of toe walking: a forward dynamics simulation analysis

Richard R Neptune, Judith M Burnfield, Sara J Mulroy
Journal of Biomechanics 2007, 40 (6): 1293-300
Toe walking is a gait deviation with multiple etiologies and often associated with premature and prolonged ankle plantar flexor electromyographic activity. The goal of this study was to use a detailed musculoskeletal model and forward dynamical simulations that emulate able-bodied toe and heel-toe walking to understand why, despite an increase in muscle activity in the ankle plantar flexors during toe walking, the internal ankle joint moment decreases relative to heel-toe walking. The simulations were analyzed to assess the force generating capacity of the plantar flexors by examining each muscle's contractile state (i.e., the muscle fiber length, velocity and activation). Consistent with experimental measurements, the simulation data showed that despite a 122% increase in soleus muscle activity and a 76% increase in gastrocnemius activity, the peak internal ankle moment in late stance decreased. The decrease was attributed to non-optimal contractile conditions for the plantar flexors (primarily the force-length relationship) that reduced their ability to generate force. As a result, greater muscle activity is needed during toe walking to produce a given muscle force level. In addition, toe walking requires greater sustained plantar flexor force and moment generation during stance. Thus, even though toe walking requires lower peak plantar flexor forces that might suggest a compensatory advantage for those with plantar flexor weakness, greater neuromuscular demand is placed on those muscles. Therefore, medical decisions concerning whether to reduce equinus should consider not only the impact on the ankle moment, but also the expected change to the plantar flexor's force generating capacity.

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