The human foot and ankle system is equipped with structures that can produce mechanical work through elastic (e.g., Achilles tendon, plantar fascia) or viscoelastic (e.g., heel pad) mechanisms, or by active muscle contractions. Yet, quantifying the work distribution among various subsections of the foot and ankle can be difficult, in large part due to a lack of objective methods for partitioning the forces acting underneath the stance foot. In this study, we deconstructed the mechanical work production during barefoot walking in a segment-by-segment manner (hallux, forefoot, hindfoot, and shank). This was accomplished by isolating the forces acting within each foot segment through controlling the placement of the participants' foot as it contacted a ground-mounted force platform. Combined with an analysis that incorporated non-rigid mechanics, we quantified the total work production distal to each of the four isolated segments. We found that various subsections within the foot and ankle showed disparate work distribution, particularly within structures distal to the hindfoot. When accounting for all sources of positive and negative work distal to the shank (i.e., ankle joint and all foot structures), these structures resembled an energy-neutral system that produced net mechanical work close to zero (-0.012 ± 0.054 J/kg).
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