Influence of the windlass mechanism on arch-spring mechanics during dynamic foot arch deformation

The function of the human foot is described dichotomously as a compliant structure during mid-stance and a stiff lever during push-off. The arch-spring and the windlass mechanisms, respectively, describe each of these behaviours; however, their interaction has not been quantified to date. We hypothesized that by engaging the windlass mechanism with metatarsophalangeal joint (MTPJ) dorsiflexion, we would observe stiffening of the arch and reduced energy absorption and dissipation during dynamic compressions of the foot. Using a custom apparatus, the MTPJ angle was fixed at 30 degrees of plantarflexion, neutral or 30 degrees of dorsiflexion for nine participants, with the shank positioned similarly to the end of mid-stance. The arch was compressed at two speeds, with the faster speed comparable to walking around 1.5 m s-1 Six cameras captured the compression and elongation of the arch, along with other kinematic variables, synchronously with the ground reaction force. Combining these measures, we computed the energy absorbed, returned and dissipated in the arch. Contrary to our hypothesis, when the windlass mechanism was engaged, the arch elongated more, and absorbed and dissipated more energy than when it was not engaged. This engagement of the windlass altered the rotational axis of the mid-foot, which probably oriented the arch-spanning structures closer to their resting length, increasing their compliance. This study provides novel evidence for an interplay between the windlass and arch-spring mechanisms that aids in regulation of energy storage within the foot.

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