Load Carriage & Step Length: Short or Preferred?

Research Paper Title

Effects of Load Carriage and Step Length Manipulation on Achilles Tendon and Knee Loads.

Background

Longer steps with load carriage is common in shorter Soldiers when matching pace with taller Soldiers whereas shorter steps are hypothesised to reduce risk of injury with load carriage.

The effects of load carriage with and without step length manipulation on loading patterns of three commonly injured structures were determined:

  • Achilles tendon, patellofemoral joint (PFJ); and
  • Medial tibiofemoral joint (mTFJ).

Methods

ROTC Cadets (n = 16; 20.1 years ± 2.5) walked with and without load carriage (20-kg). Cadets then altered preferred step lengths ±7.5% with load carriage.

Achilles tendon, PFJ and mTFJ loads were estimated via musculoskeletal modelling.

Results

Large increases in peak Achilles tendon load (p < 0.001, d = 1.93), Achilles tendon impulse per 1-km (p < 0.001, d = 0.91), peak mTFJ load (p < 0.001, d = 1.33), and mTFJ impulse per 1-km (p < 0.001, d = 1.49) were noted with load carriage while moderate increases were observed for the PFJ (peak: p < 0.001, d = 0.69; impulse per 1-km: p < 0.001, d = 0.69).

Shortened steps with load carriage only reduced peak Achilles tendon load (p < 0.001, d = -0.44) but did not reduce Achilles impulse per km due to the resulting extra steps and also did not reduce peak or cumulative PFJ and mTFJ loads (p > 0.05).

Longer steps with load carriage increased PFJ loads the most (p < 0.001, d = 0.68-0.75) with moderate increases in mTFJ forces (p < 0.001, d = 0.48-0.63) with no changes in Achilles tendon loads (p = 0.11-0.20).

Conclusions

A preferred step length is the safest strategy when walking with load carriage.

Taking a shorter step is not an effective strategy to reduce loading on the Achilles tendon, PFJ, and mTFJ.

Reference

Willy, R.W., DeVita, P., Meardon, S.A., Baggaley, M., Womble, C.C. & Willson, J.D. (2019) Effects of Load Carriage and Step Length Manipulation on Achilles Tendon and Knee Loads. Military Medicine. 184(9-10), pp.e482-e489. doi: 10.1093/milmed/usz031.

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