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J Exp Biol. 2019 May 23;222(Pt 10). pii: jeb198325. doi: 10.1242/jeb.198325.

Goats decrease hindlimb stiffness when walking over compliant surfaces.

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Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.
Center for Extreme Bionics, MIT Media Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.
Concord Field Station, Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, Bedford, MA 01730, USA.
Center for Extreme Bionics, MIT Media Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA


Leg stiffness, commonly estimated as the 'compression' of a defined leg element in response to a load, has long been used to characterize terrestrial locomotion. This study investigated how goats adjust the stiffness of their hindlimbs to accommodate surfaces of different stiffness. Goats provide a compelling animal model for studying leg stiffness modulation, because they skillfully ambulate over a range of substrates that vary in compliance. To investigate the adjustments that goats make when walking over such substrates, ground reaction forces and three-dimensional trajectories of hindlimb markers were recorded as goats walked on rigid, rubber and foam surfaces. Net joint moments, power and work at the hip, knee, ankle and metatarsophalangeal joints were estimated throughout stance via inverse dynamics. Hindlimb stiffness was estimated from plots of total leg force versus total leg length, and individual joint stiffness was estimated from plots of joint moment versus joint angle. Our results support the hypothesis that goats modulate hindlimb stiffness in response to surface stiffness; specifically, hindlimb stiffness decreased on the more compliant surfaces (P<0.002). Estimates of joint stiffness identified hip and ankle muscles as the primary drivers of these adjustments. When humans run on compliant surfaces, they generally increase leg stiffness to preserve their center-of-mass mechanics. We did not estimate center-of-mass mechanics in this study; nevertheless, our estimates of hindlimb stiffness suggest that goats exhibit a different behavior. This study offers new insight into mechanisms that allow quadrupeds to modulate their gait mechanics when walking on surfaces of variable compliance.


Biomechanics; Gait; Inverse dynamics; Joint stiffness; Locomotion; Quadruped; Quasi-stiffness

[Available on 2020-05-15]

Conflict of interest statement

Competing interestsThe authors declare no competing or financial interests.

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