Human walking isn't all hard work: Evidence of soft tissue contributions to energy dissipation and return

Karl E. Zelik, Arthur D. Kuo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The muscles and tendons of the lower extremity are generally considered the dominant producers of positive and negative work during gait. However, soft-tissue deformations not captured by joint rotations might also dissipate, store and even return substantial energy to the body. A key locomotion event is the collision of the leg with the ground, which deforms soft tissues appreciably in running. Significant deformation might also result from the impulsive ground collision in walking. In a study of normal human walking (N=10; 0.7-2.0 m s-1 speeds), we show indirect evidence for both negative and positive work performed by soft tissue, consistent with a damped elastic collision and rebound. We used the difference between measured joint work and another quantity - the work performed on the body center of mass - to indicate possible work performed by soft tissue. At 1.25 m s-1, we estimated that soft tissue performs approximately 7.5?J of negative work per collision. This constitutes approximately 60% of the total negative collision work and 31% of the total negative work per stride. The amount of soft tissue work during collision increases sharply with speed. Each collision is followed by 4?J of soft tissue rebound that is also not captured by joint work measures. Soft tissue deformation may save muscles the effort of actively dissipating energy, and soft tissue elastic rebound could save up to 14% of the total positive work per stride. Soft tissues not only cushion impacts but also appear to perform substantial work.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4257-4264
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number24
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2010


  • Locomotion
  • Mechanical work
  • Soft tissue
  • Walking biomechanics
  • Wobbling mass

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Physiology
  • Insect Science
  • Aquatic Science


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