Mechanics of toe and heel landing in stepping down in ongoing gait

When stepping down from a height difference in ongoing gait, subjects are known to use a heel landing at small height differences and switch to toe landing for larger height differences. We hypothesized that in toe landing, the leading leg can perform more negative work, to control the momentum gained during the descent, than in heel landing. Ten young male participants walked over a 10-m walkway at 5km/h to step down a height difference of 10cm halfway, using a heel or toe landing in five trials each. Kinematic data and ground reaction forces under the leading and trailing legs were recorded. Inverse dynamical analysis of both strategies showed that the leading leg performed more negative work in toe landing, while the vertical velocity at ground contact was lower. In addition, the impact forces were lower in toe landing than in heel landing. Toe landing was found to reduce gait velocity in the first step on the lower level and required higher moments and negative power around the ankle joint than heel landing. Our results indicate that heel landing may be preferred when stepping down small height differences, because it is less demanding especially for the plantar flexor muscles, while toe landing may be preferred for stepping down larger height differences, because it improves control over the momentum gained during the descent.

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