The biomechanics and energetics of human running using an elastic knee exoskeleton

G. Elliott, G.S. Sawicki, A. Marecki, H. Herr. The biomechanics and energetics of human running using an elastic knee exoskeleton, International Conference on Rehabilitation Robotics, 2013.


While the effects of series compliance on running biomechanics are well documented, the effects of parallel compliance are known only for the simpler case of hopping. As many practical exoskeletal and orthotic designs act in parallel with the leg, it is desirable to understand the effects of such an intervention. Spring-like forces offer a natural choice of perturbation for running, as they are both biologically motivated and energetically inexpensive to implement. To this end, we investigate the hypothesis that the addition of an external elastic element at the knee during the stance phase of running results in a reduction in knee extensor activation so that total joint quasistiffness is maintained. An exoskeletal knee brace consisting of an elastic element engaged by a clutch is used to provide this stance phase extensor torque. Motion capture of five subjects is used to investigate the consequences of running with this device. No significant change in leg stiffness or total knee stiffness is observed due to the activation of the clutched parallel knee spring. However, this pilot data suggests differing responses between casual runners and competitive long-distance runners, whose total knee torque is increased by the device. Such a relationship between past training and effective utilization of an external force is suggestive of limitations on the applicability of assistive devices.

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