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J Appl Physiol (1985). 2013 Sep 1;115(5):579-85. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00253.2013. Epub 2013 Jun 20.

Elastic ankle exoskeletons reduce soleus muscle force but not work in human hopping.

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Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina.


Inspired by elastic energy storage and return in tendons of human leg muscle-tendon units (MTU), exoskeletons often place a spring in parallel with an MTU to assist the MTU. However, this might perturb the normally efficient MTU mechanics and actually increase active muscle mechanical work. This study tested the effects of elastic parallel assistance on MTU mechanics. Participants hopped with and without spring-loaded ankle exoskeletons that assisted plantar flexion. An inverse dynamics analysis, combined with in vivo ultrasound imaging of soleus fascicles and surface electromyography, was used to determine muscle-tendon mechanics and activations. Whole body net metabolic power was obtained from indirect calorimetry. When hopping with spring-loaded exoskeletons, soleus activation was reduced (30-70%) and so was the magnitude of soleus force (peak force reduced by 30%) and the average rate of soleus force generation (by 50%). Although forces were lower, average positive fascicle power remained unchanged, owing to increased fascicle excursion (+4-5 mm). Net metabolic power was reduced with exoskeleton assistance (19%). These findings highlighted that parallel assistance to a muscle with appreciable series elasticity may have some negative consequences, and that the metabolic cost associated with generating force may be more pronounced than the cost of doing work for these muscles.


fascicle; metabolic power; plantar flexors; tendon; ultrasound

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