Mechanics of walking and running up and downhill: A joint-level perspective to guide design of lower-limb exoskeletons

Richard W. Nuckols, Kota Z. Takahashi, Dominic J. Farris, Sarai Mizrachi, Raziel Riemer, Gregory S. Sawicki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Lower-limb wearable robotic devices can improve clinical gait and reduce energetic demand in healthy populations. To help enable real-world use, we sought to examine how assistance should be applied in variable gait conditions and suggest an approach derived from knowledge of human locomotion mechanics to establish a 'roadmap' for wearable robot design. We characterized the changes in joint mechanics during walking and running across a range of incline/decline grades and then provide an analysis that informs the development of lower-limb exoskeletons capable of operating across a range of mechanical demands. We hypothesized that the distribution of limb-joint positive mechanical power would shift to the hip for incline walking and running and that the distribution of limb-joint negative mechanical power would shift to the knee for decline walking and running. Eight subjects (6M,2F) completed five walking (1.25 m s-1) trials at -8.53̊, -5.71̊, 0∘, 5.71∘, and 8.53∘ grade and five running (2.25 m s-1) trials at -5.71∘, -2.86∘, 0∘, 2.86∘, and 5.71∘ grade on a treadmill. We calculated time-varying joint moment and power output for the ankle, knee, and hip. For each gait, we examined how individual limb-joints contributed to total limb positive, negative and net power across grades. For both walking and running, changes in grade caused a redistribution of joint mechanical power generation and absorption. From level to incline walking, the ankle's contribution to limb positive power decreased from 44% on the level to 28% at 8.53∘ uphill grade (p < 0.0001) while the hip's contribution increased from 27% to 52% (p < 0.0001). In running, regardless of the surface gradient, the ankle was consistently the dominant source of lower-limb positive mechanical power (47-55%). In the context of our results, we outline three distinct use-modes that could be emphasized in future lower-limb exoskeleton designs 1) Energy injection: adding positive work into the gait cycle, 2) Energy extraction: removing negative work from the gait cycle, and 3) Energy transfer: extracting energy in one gait phase and then injecting it in another phase (i.e., regenerative braking).

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0231996
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number8 August
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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