INVESTIGATING SOURCES OF AGE-RELATED DIFFERENCES IN WALKING MECHANICS
Krupenevich, Rebecca Lynn
Miller, Ross H.
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Walking is one of the most common activities of daily living and represents independence and improved quality of life, particularly among older adults. However, many older adults report substantial mobility challenges, which may be associated with age-related differences in lower-extremity gait kinetics. These differences are summarily referred to as a ‘distal to proximal shift’ of joint moments and powers, and are characterized by smaller ankle kinetics and larger hip kinetics in older vs. young adults. Although age-related differences in walking mechanics are well-documented, there is little consensus about which biomechanical factors contribute to these differences. Addressing this gap in knowledge is an important step in determining if this shift is preventable, or rather, an unavoidable part of healthy aging. Therefore, the overarching goal of this dissertation was to investigate sources of the age-related distal to proximal shift in gait kinetics. Specifically, this dissertation determined the extent to which the shift in kinetics is explained by age-related differences in (i) step length and trunk kinematics, (ii) years of endurance running (i.e., habitual physical activity), and (iii) gastrocnemius muscle architecture and individual lower-extremity muscle forces. In study 1, step length and trunk position did not reverse or reduce the age-related distal to proximal shift. Similarly, in study 2, a history of habitual endurance running did not reduce or reverse the shift. The third study confirmed the distal to proximal shift at the muscle level, suggesting that gastrocnemius may be a primary site of age-related differences in plantarflexor force, due to the shorter gastrocnemius muscle fascicles and smaller gastrocnemius force production in older adults vs. young adults. The present findings support the notion that the age-related distal to proximal shift of kinetics in active older adults is due primarily to differences at the muscle level and do not support previous speculations that this shift is due to spatiotemporal factors such as step length, joint kinematics, or physical activity. Further, these results suggest that age-related differences in lower-extremity joint kinetics are an unavoidable part of natural aging even in the absence of mobility limitations and the presence of a lifelong history of endurance running.