shock absorption

Shockingly wrong?

Hi, sorry I’ve been away for so long. How very Australian of me to take all of January off!

We’ve started a new semester on the MSc programme its called “Healthy walking” and for this two weeks the students are working through my video series “Why we walk the way we do“. I’ve also been preparing some study material to support this. In doing this I’ve become even more convinced than ever that the conventional understanding of first double support as a phase of shock absorption is wrong.

Of course one of the old chestnuts that follow from that theory is that stance phase knee flexion is a mechanism to absorb the shock of impact. I’ve been thinking about this for sometime but it wasn’t until I was preparing this material last week that it struck me that it would be useful to look at the knee power graph. Why? – because if there is one thing that shock absorbers do it is absorb energy. You can make an argument that this is all they do. So if the knee is a shock absorber and we look at the knee power graph immediately after foot contact we should expect to see power absorption.Knee powerIf you look at the graph you’ll see quite the reverse. Immediately after foot contact the knee is generating power – this is not the action of a shock absorber.

In case anyone thinks this is just my data we can go to David Winter’s book (1991, figure 4.34b):

Winter knee

This is interesting because the early power generation peak is definitely there but Winter seems to ignore it. He starts numbering at the power absorption peak in late double support that extends into early single support (K1). Its almost as if he can’t bring himself to admit that it’s there – perhaps he was a shock absorption theorist and this didn’t fit in with his world view?

Kirtley (2006) admits the peak is there and even labels it Ko. He claims however that it is an artefact of the filtering. This claim is unreferenced but I think refers to the work of Bisseling and Hof (2006) which was drawn into a discussion on K0 on the old CGA web-site. I’m not convinced. I don’t think anyone doubts that the ground reaction is anterior to the knee in the first half of double support and the knee is clearly flexing at this point. The inevitable consequence of the combination of these two observations is that power (moment . joint velocity) must be generated. The knee is not acting as a shock absorber.

Putting it another way the knee moment graph clearly shows that the knee flexors are the dominant muscle group at the knee for the first half of double support whereas the knee extensors would have to be dominant for knee flexion to have the capacity to absorb shock.

Of course from about half-way through double support power is absorbed at the knee but this is about 50msec after foot contact which is too long after contact for this to be a consequence of a mechanical “shock” at the time of contact.

On the balance of evidence I’m more and more convinced that stance phase knee flexion is not a shock absorbing mechanism. But if it’s not to absorb shock – what is it for?


Bisseling, R. W., & Hof, A. L. (2006). Handling of impact forces in inverse dynamics. J Biomech, 39(13), 2438-2444.

Kirtley, C. (2006). Clinical gait analysis (1st ed.). Edinburgh: Elsevier.

Winter, D. (1991). The biomechanics and motor control of human gait: Normal, Elderly and Pathological (2nd ed.). Waterloo:: Waterloo Biomechanics.

Winter, D. A. (1992). Foot trajectory in human gait: a precise and multifactorial motor control task. Phys Ther, 72(1), 45-53; discussion 54-46.