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Robotic ankle-foot prostheses that provide net positive push-off work can reduce the metabolic rate of walking for individuals with amputation, but benefits might be sensitive to push-off timing. Simple walking models suggest that preemptive push-off reduces center-of-mass work, possibly reducing metabolic rate. Studies with bilateral exoskeletons have found that push-off beginning before leading leg contact minimizes metabolic rate, but timing was not varied independently from push-off work, and the effects of push-off timing on biomechanics were not measured. Most lower-limb amputations are unilateral, which could also affect optimal timing. The goal of this study was to vary the timing of positive prosthesis push-off work in isolation and measure the effects on energetics, mechanics and muscle activity.


We tested 10 able-bodied participants walking on a treadmill at 1.25 m · s−1. Participants wore a tethered ankle-foot prosthesis emulator on one leg using a rigid boot adapter. We programmed the prosthesis to apply torque bursts that began between 46% and 56% of stride in different conditions. We iteratively adjusted torque magnitude to maintain constant net positive push-off work.


When push-off began at or after leading leg contact, metabolic rate was about 10% lower than in a condition with Spring-like prosthesis behavior. When push-off began before leading leg contact, metabolic rate was not different from the Spring-like condition. Early push-off led to increased prosthesis-side vastus medialis and biceps femoris activity during push-off and increased variability in step length and prosthesis loading during push-off. Prosthesis push-off timing had no influence on intact-side leg center-of-mass collision work.


Prosthesis push-off timing, isolated from push-off work, strongly affected metabolic rate, with optimal timing at or after intact-side heel contact. Increased thigh muscle activation and increased human variability appear to have caused the lack of reduction in metabolic rate when push-off was provided too early. Optimal timing with respect to opposite heel contact was not different from normal walking, but the trends in metabolic rate and center-of-mass mechanics were not consistent with simple model predictions. Optimal push-off timing should also be characterized for individuals with amputation, since meaningful benefits might be realized with improved timing.


© Malcolm et al.; licensee BioMed Central. 2015

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

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Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation





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