The aim of this study was to investigate the biomechanics and motor co-ordination in humans during stair climbing at different inclinations. Ten normal subjects ascended and descended a five-step staircase at three different inclinations (24°, 30°, 42°). Three steps were instrumented with force sensors and provided 6 dof ground reactions. Kinematics was analysed by a camera-based optoelectronic system. An inverse dynamics approach was applied to compute joint moments and powers. The different kinematic and kinetic patterns of stair ascent and descent were analysed and compared to level walking patterns. Temporal gait cycle parameters and ground reactions were not significantly affected by staircase inclination. Joint angles and moments showed a relatively low but significant dependency on the inclination. A large influence was observed in joint powers. This can be related to the varying amount of potential energy that has to be produced (during ascent) or absorbed (during descent) by the muscles. The kinematics and kinetics of staircase walking differ considerably from level walking. Interestingly, no definite signs could be found indicating that there is an adaptation or shift in the motor patterns when moving from level to stair walking. This can be clearly seen in the foot placement: compared to level walking, the forefoot strikes the ground first-independent from climbing direction and inclination. This and further findings suggest that there is a certain inclination angle or angular range where subjects do switch between a level walking and a stair walking gait pattern. Copyright © 2002 Elsevier Science B.V.
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