Frontal plane ankle stiffness increases with axial load independent of muscle activity

Zoe Villamar*, Eric J. Perreault, Daniel Ludvig

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ankle sprains are the most common musculoskeletal injury, typically resulting from excessive inversion of the ankle. One way to prevent excessive inversion and maintain ankle stability is to generate a stiffness that is sufficient to resist externally imposed rotations. Frontal-plane ankle stiffness increases as participants place more weight on their ankle, but whether this effect is due to muscle activation or axial loading of the ankle is unknown. Identifying whether and to what extent axial loading affects ankle stiffness is important in understanding what role the passive mechanics of the ankle joint play in maintaining its stability. The objective of this study was to determine the effect of passive axial load on frontal-plane ankle stiffness. We had subjects seated in a chair as an axial load was applied to the ankle ranging from 10% to 50% body weight. Small rotational perturbations were applied to the ankle in the frontal plane to estimate stiffness. We found a significant, linear, 3-fold increase in ankle stiffness with axial load from the range of 0% body weight to 50% body weight. This increase could not be due to muscle activity as we observed no significant axial-load-dependent change in any of the recorded muscle activations. These results demonstrate that axial loading is a significant contributor to maintaining frontal-plane ankle stability, and that disruptions to the mechanism mediating this sensitivity of stiffness to axial loading may result in pathological cases of ankle instability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number111282
JournalJournal of Biomechanics
StatePublished - Oct 2022


  • Ankle impedance
  • Ankle stability
  • Ankle stiffness
  • Axial load
  • Passive mechanics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Rehabilitation
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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