Six degree-of-freedom analysis of hip, knee, ankle and foot provides updated understanding of biomechanical work during human walking

Karl E. Zelik, Kota Z. Takahashi, Gregory S. Sawicki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

103 Scopus citations


Measuring biomechanical work performed by humans and other animals is critical for understanding muscle-tendon function, jointspecific contributions and energy-saving mechanisms during locomotion. Inverse dynamics is often employed to estimate jointlevel contributions, and deformable body estimates can be used to study work performed by the foot. We recently discovered that these commonly used experimental estimates fail to explain whole-body energy changes observed during human walking. By re-analyzing previously published data, we found that about 25% (8 J) of total positive energy changes of/about the body's center-of-mass and >30% of the energy changes during the Push-off phase of walking were not explained by conventional joint- and segment-level work estimates, exposing a gap in our fundamental understanding of work production during gait. Here, we present a novel Energy-Accounting analysis that integrates various empirical measures of work and energy to elucidate the source of unexplained biomechanical work. We discovered that by extending conventional 3 degree-of-freedom (DOF) inverse dynamics (estimating rotational work about joints) to 6DOF (rotational and translational) analysis of the hip, knee, ankle and foot, we could fully explain the missing positive work. This revealed that Push-off work performed about the hip may be >50% greater than conventionally estimated (9.3 versus 6.0 J, P=0.0002, at 1.4 m s-1). Our findings demonstrate that 6DOF analysis (of hip- knee-ankle-foot) better captures energy changes of the body than more conventional 3DOF estimates. These findings refine our fundamental understanding of how work is distributed within the body, which has implications for assistive technology, biomechanical simulations and potentially clinical treatment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)876-886
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Mar 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Biomechanics
  • Foot work
  • Gait analysis
  • Inverse dynamics
  • Joint work
  • Mechanical work

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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