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

Richard W. Willy, Paul Devita, Stacey A. Meardon, Michael Baggaley, Christopher C. Womble, John D. Willson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Longer steps with load carriage is common in shorter Soldiers when matching pace with taller Soldiers whereas shorter steps are hypothesized 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). Materials and 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 modeling. 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). Conclusion: 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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E479-E486
JournalMilitary Medicine
Issue number9-10
StatePublished - Apr 2 2019


Funding for this study was provided by the East Carolina University Interdisciplinary Research Award (Grant no. BD003479).

FundersFunder number
East Carolina University


    • biomechanics
    • injury
    • joint contact force
    • military
    • osteoarthritis


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