Ankle joint mechanics and foot proportions differ between human sprinters and non-sprinters

Josh R. Baxter, Thomas A. Novack, Herman Van Werkhoven, David R. Pennell, Stephen J. Piazza

Abstract

Recent studies of sprinters and distance runners have suggested that variations in human foot proportions and plantarflexor muscle moment arm correspond to the level of sprint performance or running economy. Less clear, however, is whether differences in muscle moment arm are mediated by altered tendon paths or by variation in the centre of ankle joint rotation. Previous measurements of these differences have relied upon assumed joint centres and measurements of bone geometry made externally, such that they would be affected by the thickness of the overlying soft tissue. Using magnetic resonance imaging, we found that trained sprinters have shorter plantarflexor moment arms (p = 0.011) and longer forefoot bones (p = 0.019) than non-sprinters. The shorter moment arms of sprinters are attributable to differences in the location of the centre of rotation (p < 0.001) rather than to differences in the path of the Achilles tendon. A simple computer model suggests that increasing the ratio of forefoot to rearfoot length permits more plantarflexor muscle work during plantarflexion that occurs at rates expected during the acceleration phase following the sprint start.

  • Received November 8, 2011.
  • Accepted December 2, 2011.
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