Foot trajectory in human gait: a precise and multifactorial motor control task

The trajectory of the heel and toe during the swing phase of human gait were analyzed on young adults. The magnitude and variability of minimum toe clearance and heel-contact velocity were documented on 10 repeat walking trials on 11 subjects. The energetics that controlled step length resulted from a separate study of 55 walking trials conducted on subjects walking at slow, natural, and fast cadences. A sensitivity analysis of the toe clearance and heel-contact velocity measures revealed the individual changes at each joint in the link-segment chain that could be responsible for changes in those measures. Toe clearance was very small (1.29 cm) and had low variability (about 4 mm). Heel-contact velocity was negligible vertically and small (0.87 m/s) horizontally. Six joints in the link-segment chain could, with very small changes (+/- 0.86 degrees – +/- 3.3 degrees), independently account for toe clearance variability. Only one muscle group in the chain (swing-phase hamstring muscles) could be responsible for altering the heel-contact velocity prior to heel contact. Four mechanical power phases in gait (ankle push-off, hip pull-off, knee extensor eccentric power at push-off, and knee flexor eccentric power prior to heel contact) could alter step length and cadence. These analyses demonstrate that the safe trajectory of the foot during swing is a precise endpoint control task that is under the multisegment motor control of both the stance and swing limbs.

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