Author(s): Rolian C, Lieberman DE, Hamill J, Scott JW, Werbel W
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Abstract The phalangeal portion of the forefoot is extremely short relative to body mass in humans. This derived pedal proportion is thought to have evolved in the context of committed bipedalism, but the benefits of shorter toes for walking and/or running have not been tested previously. Here, we propose a biomechanical model of toe function in bipedal locomotion that suggests that shorter pedal phalanges improve locomotor performance by decreasing digital flexor force production and mechanical work, which might ultimately reduce the metabolic cost of flexor force production during bipedal locomotion. We tested this model using kinematic, force and plantar pressure data collected from a human sample representing normal variation in toe length (N=25). The effect of toe length on peak digital flexor forces, impulses and work outputs was evaluated during barefoot walking and running using partial correlations and multiple regression analysis, controlling for the effects of body mass, whole-foot and phalangeal contact times and toe-out angle. Our results suggest that there is no significant increase in digital flexor output associated with longer toes in walking. In running, however, multiple regression analyses based on the sample suggest that increasing average relative toe length by as little as 20\% doubles peak digital flexor impulses and mechanical work, probably also increasing the metabolic cost of generating these forces. The increased mechanical cost associated with long toes in running suggests that modern human forefoot proportions might have been selected for in the context of the evolution of endurance running.
This article was published in J Exp Biol
and referenced in Journal of Osteoporosis and Physical Activity