Open Access Research

Co-contraction patterns of trans-tibial amputee ankle and knee musculature during gait

Mahyo Seyedali12, Joseph M Czerniecki13, David C Morgenroth13 and Michael E Hahn12*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Rehabilitation Research and Development Center of Excellence for Limb Loss Prevention and Prosthetic Engineering, VA Puget Sound, 1660 S. Columbian Way, Seattle, WA 98108, USA

2 University of Washington, Department of Mechanical Engineering, 4518 University Way Northeast, Seattle, WA 98105, USA

3 University of Washington, Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, 1959 NE Pacific Street, Box 356490, Seattle, WA 98195, USA

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Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation 2012, 9:29  doi:10.1186/1743-0003-9-29

Published: 28 May 2012



Myoelectric control of upper extremity powered prostheses has been used clinically for many years, however this approach has not been fully developed for lower extremity prosthetic devices. With the advent of powered lower extremity prosthetic components, the potential role of myoelectric control systems is of increasing importance. An understanding of muscle activation patterns and their relationship to functional ambulation is a vital step in the future development of myoelectric control. Unusual knee muscle co-contractions have been reported in both limbs of trans-tibial amputees. It is currently unknown what differences exist in co-contraction between trans-tibial amputees and controls. This study compares the activation and co-contraction patterns of the ankle and knee musculature of trans-tibial amputees (intact and residual limbs), and able-bodied control subjects during three speeds of gait. It was hypothesized that residual limbs would have greater ankle muscle co-contraction than intact and able-bodied control limbs and that knee muscle co-contraction would be different among all limbs. Lastly it was hypothesized that the extent of muscle co-contraction would increase with walking speed.


Nine unilateral traumatic trans-tibial amputees and five matched controls participated. Surface electromyography recorded activation from the Tibialis Anterior, Medial Gastrocnemius, Vastus Lateralis and Biceps Femoris of the residual, intact and control limbs. A series of filters were applied to the signal to obtain a linear envelope of the activation patterns. A co-contraction area (ratio of the integrated agonist and antagonist activity) was calculated during specific phases of gait.


Co-contraction of the ankle muscles was greater in the residual limb than in the intact and control limbs during all phases of gait. Knee muscle co-contraction was greater in the residual limb than in the control limb during all phases of gait.


Co-contractions may represent a limb stiffening strategy to enhance stability during phases of initial foot-contact and single limb support. These strategies may be functionally necessary for amputee gait; however, the presence of co-contractions could confound future development of myoelectric controls and should thus be accounted for.

Electromyography; Myoelectric control; Trans-tibial amputees; Activation patterns; Muscle amplitude