Forces Generated by Vastus Lateralis and Vastus Medialis Decrease with Increasing Stair Descent Speed

Elena J. Caruthers, Kassandra K. Oxendale, Jacqueline M. Lewis, Ajit M.W. Chaudhari, Laura C. Schmitt, Thomas M. Best, Robert A. Siston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Stair descent (SD) is a common, difficult task for populations who are elderly or have orthopaedic pathologies. Joint torques of young, healthy populations during SD increase at the hip and ankle with increasing speed but not at the knee, contrasting torque patterns during gait. To better understand the sources of the knee torque pattern, we used dynamic simulations to estimate knee muscle forces and how they modulate center of mass (COM) acceleration across SD speeds (slow, self-selected, and fast) in young, healthy adults. The vastus lateralis and vastus medialis forces decreased from slow to self-selected speeds as the individual lowered to the next step. Since the vasti are primary contributors to vertical support during SD, they produced lower forces at faster speeds due to the lower need for vertical COM support observed at faster speeds. In contrast, the semimembranosus and rectus femoris forces increased across successive speeds, allowing the semimembranosus to increase acceleration downward and forward and the rectus femoris to provide more vertical support and resistance to forward progression as SD speed increased. These results demonstrate the utility of dynamic simulations to extend beyond traditional inverse dynamics analyses to gain further insight into muscle mechanisms during tasks like SD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)579-589
Number of pages11
JournalAnnals of biomedical engineering
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2018


  • Dynamic simulations
  • Knee
  • Musculoskeletal modeling
  • OpenSim
  • Quadriceps
  • Stair climbing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biomedical Engineering


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