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Locomotion variability and joint pain

Bryan Charles Heiderscheit, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The variability present in human locomotion has been an increasing area of study. Originally thought to be associated with pathology, recent evidence suggests that coordination variability may offer an adaptive mechanism. The purpose of this series of investigations was to describe the relation between stride characteristic variability and joint coordination variability during running among persons with and without patellofemoral pain. Second, the role of pain in the observed changes in movement variability among persons with patellofemoral pain was investigated. Finally, the presence of gait asymmetries and variability present between the lower extremities of persons with patellofemoral pain was addressed. Three-dimensional kinematic data were collected from bilateral lower extremities of eight subjects with unilateral patellofemoral pain, as well as eight non-impaired subjects. All subjects ran on a treadmill at fixed (2.68-m·s −1) and preferred speeds during four collection sessions, while reporting perceived pain. The initial session involved subjects running while experiencing pain, with the final three collections being reduced pain sessions. The patellofemoral subjects displayed increased stride length variability of both limbs during running at preferred speed compared to non-impaired subjects. Intralimb joint coordination variability across the entire stride was consistent between groups. Further analysis, however, revealed that during preferred speed running, the patellofemoral pain group displayed reduced variability in the thigh rotation:leg rotation coupling of the injured limb at heel-strike compared to the non-impaired group. A direct relation between pain and stride length variability was present, as both pain and stride length variability decreased simultaneously among subjects with patellofemoral pain. In addition, the level of variability among the thigh rotation:leg rotation coupling at heel-strike was observed to increase following pain reduction. Joint coordination asymmetry was consistent between subjects with and without patellofemoral pain. However, the patellofemoral pain group displayed greater variability in interlimb knee rotation. Additionally, the transverse and coronal planes revealed greater levels of asymmetry and variability than the sagittal plane for both groups, suggesting an adaptive role. While patellofemoral pain impacted stride length variability, it appeared to alter only the variability of transverse plane joint coordination. Future analyses may involve a task that elicits a greater pain response.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Heiderscheit, Bryan Charles, "Locomotion variability and joint pain" (2000). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9988797.