Age dependent differences in attenuation of vertical ground reaction force during a step descent
Aim: The aim of this study was to investigate the differences between older and younger adults in the attenuation of impact during descent from a step. Strategies that have been implicated in reducing either the magnitude of vertical ground reaction force (vertical GRF) or the time taken to reach the maximum vertical GRF in the stepping leg were explored. Study Design: The study was an experimental, laboratory based, repeated measures design. Participants: Twenty participants took part in this exploratory study. Ten in the older group of 60-80 years, mean 65.3 (SD 5) years and ten in the younger age group of 20-30 years, mean 22.8 (SD 2.5) years. Main Measures: The vertical GRF and the time taken to reach maximum vertical GRF were measured to ascertain impact during step descent. Electromyography and kinematic variables were measured to determine the effect they may have on the impact. The variables measured were the maximum joint range of motion of the hip and knee during early stance in step descent. Surface electromyography from four lower limb muscles was recorded to ascertain the magnitude of muscle activity at impact. The relationship in an antero-posterior direction of the upper body and stepping leg at initial contact (IC) was also investigated. Results: There was a significant difference in both the amount of knee flexion and the amount of activity of the vastus lateralis muscle during impact between older and younger adults. Older adults had significantly less knee flexion during a step descent activity than younger adults (F(1,18)=5.48; p=.031).Older adults had significantly more vastus lateralis activity during a step descent activity than younger adults (F(1,18)=5.21; p=.035). Conclusions: Older and younger adults use different strategies in both muscle activation and joint range of motion around the knee of the leading leg during the step descent. Older adults used more vastus lateralis activity perhaps to increase stiffness in the knee, leading to a reduction in range of motion at impact. Although no change in vertical GRF was detected in this study, both of these strategies have the potential to increase the impact of a step and therefore cause jarring and possible damage. This study recruited healthy active older adults and differences in impact may be observed in an older or less active population, or in those with joint pathology such as osteoarthritis.