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Helical Axes of Skeletal Knee Joint Motion During

Antonie J. van den Bogert
Cleveland State University,

C. Reinschmidt
University of Calgary

A. Lundberg
Huddinge University Hospital

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NOTICE: this is the authors version of a work that was accepted for publication in Journal of
Biomechanics. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing,
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document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A
definitive version was subsequently published in Journal of Biomechanics, 41, 8, (01-01-2008);

Original Citation
van den Bogert, A., Reinschmidt, C., and Lundberg, A., 2008, "Helical Axes of Skeletal Knee Joint Motion during Running," Journal of
Biomechanics, 41(8) pp. 1632-1638.

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Helical axes of skeletal knee joint motion during running
AJ . va n den Bogert H b .*, C. Reinschmidt b .c , A. Lundberg d
, D"parlml'm of Biomedical EtJgin"erill!l (llId On/wpm'die R,'s"lIrcil Celller. Thl' C/e~'i!l1ll1{1 Clinic FOUI/dlllioll, 9500 Euclid Arelllll'. Cfa eflllld. OH 44195, USA
bFaI'll/I), 0/ Kinesiology. The Ullin>rsily of Olloar)'. C,lIyary. ell/uufll
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1. Introduction this mechanism fails to funct ion normally, overuse injuries

and degenerative joint disease can occur.
Joints are an essent ial component of musculoskeletal An essential functional property of a jo in t is the axis of
function. The ability of muscles 10 produce controlled rota lion, which is defined a s Ihe sct of poinls on onc bonc
skeleta l movemen ts depends on the fact that joints a llow that have no relat ive velocity relative to the Olher bone, al a
su bstant ial amounts of rotatio n between bones with givcn time. In analysis or human movement, the interseg
minimal translation. J o ints such as the elbow and the hip mental force and moment vectors are functionally mean
consist of highly congruous a rtic ular surfaces where this ingfu l if they a re defined at a "joint center'" that lies on this
kinematic funct ion is a direct consequence of geometry. axis of rotation. Since there is no rela ti ve velocity a t this
Other joints. such a s the knee and shou lder, rely on point , the intersegmenta l fo rce does no net mechanical
ligaments and muscles to guide the kinematics such that work and the function of muscles can be entirely
rotat io n is ach ieved without undesirable translation. When represented by joint moments. In joints with high
congruency. a sui table joint center can be defined from
geomctry (Bcll et a l. . 1990), but this is not possiblc for Ihc
Corresponding author at: Department of Biomedical Engineering and knee joint where the kinematics is on ly part ially governed
Ortho paedic Research Cc nter. The Cle"cland Clinic Foundation. 9500
Euclid Avenue. C leveland. O H 44195. USA. Tel.: + 121 6 4445566;
by Ihe geometry of the articular surfaces. In gait analysis,
fax : + 12164449198 . the knee jo in t center is typically defined to be the midpoint
-lI/ailliddresJ': bogcrta(!l , (A.J . van de ll Bogen). between the femoral cpicondylcs. Recent ly, an average

knee joint center based on kinematic analysis has been role in the aetiology of chronic injuries. In a previous
found to be more reproducible than one based on manual study, we have obtained data on 3-D knee kinematics
palpation (Besier et al., 2003). A xed axis or center of during running, using markers mounted on bone pins, but
rotation is, however, inconsistent with the observation of only rotational motion was reported (Reinschmidt et al.,
rollback of the femur relative to the tibial plateau (Hill 1997b).
et al., 2000). This implies that the axis of rotation moves The purpose of the present study was, therefore (1), to
posteriorly during exion, as in a four-bar linkage with describe the FHA of the knee joint during the stance phase
inextensible cruciate ligaments (Huson, 1974). Theoretical of running, and (2) to determine to what extent the
musculoskeletal models have incorporated such a exion- observed changes in FHA were dependent on exion angle.
dependent posterior translation (Delp et al., 1990) so that
muscle function can be predicted from musculoskeletal 2. Methods
geometry and represented by a moment arm with respect to
a functional axis of rotation. The methodology used to measure the skeletal tibiofemoral kinematics
The axis of rotation of the knee joint depends on loading during the stance phase of running is described in detail elsewhere
as well as on exion angle. In vitro studies have shown that (Reinschmidt et al., 1997a, b). Briey, intracortical bone pins (Fig. 1) were
inserted into the femur and tibia of the right leg of three healthy male
at any exion angle, exion can occur about different axes,
subjects (age 25.772.1 yr., mass 85.579.6 kg, height 186.779.6 cm). The
depending on whether the joint is loaded in internal or test protocols were approved by the ethics committees of the University of
external rotation (Blankevoort et al., 1990). In addition to Calgary and the Karolinska Institute, and informed consent was obtained
this rotational laxity, there is considerable anteriorposter from each subject. Each subject performed ve running trials at
ior laxity which indicates that ligaments do not function as 2.970.2 m/s, while the movement of marker triads attached to these pins
were recorded with three high-speed cine cameras (LOCAM) recording at
inextensible links (Fleming et al., 2002). These observations
200 Hz. The camera coordinates were low-pass ltered with a double
suggest that external forces and muscles can have a second-order Butterworth lter with a cut-off frequency of 8 Hz. A direct
substantial inuence on the axis of rotation of the knee linear transformation (DLT) approach was used to calibrate the cameras
joint in vivo. If this is the case, a model with a exion- and obtain 3-D marker coordinates. Either prior to or after the motion
dependent axis of rotation (Delp et al., 1990) would not trials, stereo X-rays (frontal and lateral view) were taken with the knee
positioned inside a calibration cage for radiostereometric analysis (RSA),
correctly represent the functional role of muscles, i.e.
again using DLT.
moment arms, during movement. An anatomical tibial coordinate system (ATCS) was dened so that
Joint loading, which may alter the axis of rotation, can axes of rotation could be reported as a position and orientation relative to
be incorporated in cadaver experiments (Blaha et al., 2003),
but realistic simulations of in vivo loading during func
tional movement are hard to achieve. The alternative is to
study knee joint kinematics in vivo. Medical imaging
techniques are typically used to determine in vivo bone
motion without skin marker artifacts. Magnetic resonance
imaging can be applied during quasi-static conditions
(Iwaki et al., 2000; Hill et al., 2000). For dynamic
movements, uoroscopy has proved successful to study
in vivo kinematics after total knee replacement, by taking
advantage of the high contrast between implant and
background (e.g. Dennis et al., 2001; Fantozzi et al.,
2003). In natural knee joints, similar information has been
obtained through implantation of metallic beads (Jonsson
and Karrholm, 1994) or more recently through video-
uoroscopy and CT-based bone models (Komistek et al.,
2003). Results of these in vivo studies have typically been
presented as contact patterns or condylar translations,
rather than functional rotation axes or nite helical axes
(FHA). This may be due to the high sensitivity of FHA
calculations to errors in bone motion data, especially when
small rotation steps are used (Woltring et al., 1985). For
functional activities such as running, with small rotations
during the stance phase, the accuracy, sampling rate and
measurement volume requirements for FHA analysis
exceed the capabilities of standard medical imaging
techniques. Running is of interest because it is associated
with large muscle forces acting across the knee joint during Fig. 1. . Marker triads mounted on intracortical pins located at the lateral
stance, which can inuence the axis of rotation and play a epicondyle of the femur and the proximal tibia.

this reference frame. The 3-D coordinates of the required anatomical The orientation and position of the FHA describing the femur motion
landmarks were obtained by manual digitization of the X-rays, as between times 1 and 2, with respect to the ATCS, was extracted from R
described in detail by Lafortune et al. (1992). Briey, the most proximal using the method of Spoor and Veldpaus (1980). The helical axes were
point on the medial intercondylar eminence was chosen as the origin of the projected onto bone tracings in the two X-ray views by using the DLT
ATCS. The direction of the proximaldistal axis (y-axis, proximal coefcients of the RSA calibration. For illustrative purposes, medial and a
positive) was determined by identifying two points on the tibial long axis lateral parasagittal planes (160 x 140 mm2) of the ATCS were also
in both stereo X-ray images. The medio-lateral direction (z-axis, lateral projected onto the X-ray images. The femoral outlines were drawn for
positive) was obtained by projecting a line connecting the estimated the (extended) position in which the RSA images were taken.
centers of the medial and lateral tibial articulating surfaces into the plane The positions and orientations of the FHA were quantied in relation
perpendicular to the proximaldistal axis. The anteriorposterior axis (x to the ATCS. The deviation (angle between medio-lateral axis of the tibia
axis, anterior positive) was dened as the cross product of these two axes. and the helical axis projected onto transverse tibial plane) and inclination
The pin-mounted markers were also digitized and their 3-D coordinates (angle between helical axis and its projection into the transverse tibial
were transformed to the ATCS. plane) were calculated for each exion/extension step. The positions of the
KineMat (Reinschmidt and van den Bogert, 1997), a MATLABTM helical axes were also calculated as the intersection of the FHA with the
(MathWorks, Natick, MA)-based software package, was used for all mid-sagittal plane of the ATCS.
kinematic analyses. Cardan angles using the conventions of Grood and The amount of error in the 3-D marker coordinates during running was
Suntay (1983) were initially calculated to determine the (time points of) estimated from the SD of intermarker distances of markers attached to the
exion steps for which the helical axes were calculated. The exion/ same intracortical pin (coordinate error SDdistance/O2). The error
extension curves of the three subjects showed a exion phase during 0% to propagation to the nal results (orientation and location of the helical
approximately 40% of stance, followed by an extension movement axes) was estimated using a Monte Carlo simulation. One trial was
towards the end of stance. For each trial, the exion phase was divided arbitrarily selected where the coordinates of all markers were perturbed
into four equal steps and the same step size was then used for the extension with normally distributed random errors with known variance to represent
part of the curve. This resulted into steps of 51, 71, and 61 for subject A, B, the coordinate errors. The perturbation was repeated 1000 times and the
and C, respectively (Fig. 2). RMS (root mean square) differences to the unperturbed axis orientations
A singular value decomposition method (Soderkvist and Wedin, 1995) and positions were calculated.
was employed throughout to obtain 4 x 4 homogeneous transformation The error in digitizing the calibration points, bone pin markers and
matrices T from 3-D marker coordinates r measured with respect to anatomical landmarks on the X-ray images was assessed by repeatedly
different reference frames or at different times: digitizing these points by two different operators and analysis systems.
Note that the anatomical landmarks were rst identied by one operator
rA TB!A rB , (1) and then marked with a felt pen on the original X-ray image. Therefore,
this analysis did not include the reproducibility in dening the anatomical
where r (x,y,z,1)T and the subscript A or B indicates the reference frame
landmarks on the RSA images.
or time at which the coordinates were measured. For each step (between
time 1 and time 2), ve sets of marker coordinates were used to calculate
the orientation of the helical axes in the RSA coordinate system: rfem1 3. Results
(femoral marker coordinates at time 1), rfem2 (femoral marker coordinates
at time 2), rtib1 (tibial marker coordinates at time 1), rtib2 (tibial marker
coordinates at time 2), rtibA (tibial marker coordinates in the ATCS). The The coordinate noise for the movement analysis was
movement of the femur relative to the ATCS between time steps 1 and 2 estimated to be 0.22 mm. Using the Monte Carlo simula
was described by the following transformation matrix: tion, it was found that this coordinate noise would cause
RMS errors of 3.11 in the deviation and 2.41 in the
R Ttib1!tibA Tfem2!fem1 Ttib1!tib2 TtibA!tib1 . (2)
inclination of the helical axes. The RMS error in
determining the intersection point with the tibial sagittal
bisector was found to be 7.6 mm in the anteriorposterior
1 2 3 4 5 6 (rotation steps) direction and 6.0 mm in the proximaldistal direction. The
RSA digitization process had errors of less than 0.5 mm,
which implies an orientation error for the ATCS of
Flexion angle (degrees)

maximally 0.61.
The helical axis during running stance, when displayed
relative to the subjects knee X-rays, were found to be
located within the distal femur and have mainly a medio
lateral orientation. One typical trial for each subject is
shown in Fig. 3.
The orientation and position of the FHA with respect to
the ATCS were generally consistent within subjects and
between subjects (Fig. 4). In all subjects, the FHAs shifted
-20 0 20 40 60 80 100 120 posteriorly by about 30 mm during steps 15 and anteriorly
Time (% of stance) from step 6 until the end of extension (Fig. 4A). The
proximaldistal position of the FHA was consistently
Fig. 2. . Example of exion angle in one trial, before and after smoothing, 1020 mm above the tibial plateau during the rst three
showing the six motion steps that were considered in this trial. The exion
exion steps, followed by a large proximal shift of which
phase, starting from heel strike, was divided into four steps with equal
amounts of exion. The number of steps in the extension phase (two, as in the timing was inconsistent between subjects (Fig. 4B). The
this example, or three, or four) depended on the maximal extension orientation of the FHA remained within 101 of the tibial
achieved during push-off. coronal plane (Fig. 4C) but the inclination showed

Subject A (Trial 3) Subject B (Trial 3) Subject C (Trial 3)

medial plane


ial p

me lane

dia lateral plane
ral p


lan 47


4 e 6
6 532 862
5 3
3 1 4

4 7
6 5 78 632
4 1
53 2 4
5 1
1 medial plan
lateral plan
medial plane e

med lateral plane

lateral p ial plane

Fig. 3. . Finite helical axes (FHA) projected onto frontal (top) and lateral (bottom) X-ray views for one representative trial in each subject. The axes are
indicated with solid (exion phase) and dashed lines (extension phase). The numbers next to the axes indicates the corresponding step numbers (14: steps
in exion;X5: steps in extension). Note that these results represent the location of the helical axes relative to the tibia. The femur is drawn for illustrative
purposes in the neutral (extended) position only.

considerable changes during the stance phase, which were the pins relative to bone. However, the rather coarse
consistent between subjects. The FHA demonstrated an temporal resolution of our analysis (four time steps for the
increasing medial inclination during steps 14, after which exion phase) is such that these high-frequency events
the FHA suddenly returned to the transverse plane in step would not affect the results. When considering the use of
5, followed once more by an increase in medial inclination skin markers for a similar analysis, much larger systematic
(Fig. 4D). errors would be expected.
The orientation of the FHA was predominantly in a
4. Discussion medio-lateral direction, with deviation and inclination not
exceeding 251 (Fig. 4C and D). A pure exion/extension
The error analysis showed that the accuracy in determin motion would occur strictly around a medio-lateral axis.
ing the intersection point of the FHA with the tibial sagittal Therefore, the amounts of inclination and deviation of the
plane was about 8 mm. The error in the orientation of the FHA are a measure of how much coupled rotation is
FHA relative to a tibial reference frame was in the order of occurring about the proximaldistal and anteriorposterior
magnitude of 31. Assuming random errors, the nal error axes, respectively. The FHA was generally inclined on the
in the average of ve trials would be a factor of O5 lower, medial side for all trials and subjects. This result is in
i.e. about 3.5 mm error in helical axis position. This error agreement with previous in vitro studies (Blankevoort et al.,
was small enough that several important aspects of the 1990) and an in vivo equine study (van den Bogert, 1991).
FHA could be observed during the stance phase of running On the lateral side, the FHA was close to the tibial plateau,
in all three subjects. We were unable to estimate systematic indicating a pure rolling motion, while on the medial side
errors in FHA, such as due to impact related movement of the FHA was more proximal, indicating a rotation about

Helical axis: anterior-posterior position Helical axis: deviation from tibial coronal plane
anterior-posterior position of axis (mm)

Subject A Subject A
30 Subject B
Subject B
Subject C 10 Subject C

axis deviation (deg)

10 0
-20 -20

-30 -30
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
rotation step rotation step

Helical axis: proximal-distal position Helical axis: inclination from tibial transverse plane

40 20
Subject A
proximal-distal position (mm)

Subject B Subject A
30 Subject C 10
axis inclination (deg) Subject B
Subject C
20 0

10 -10

0 -20

-10 -30
-20 -40
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
rotation step rotation step

Fig. 4. . Orientation and position of the FHA during of the stance phase of running. The exion phase in each trial was divided into exactly four rotation
steps of about 61, and the same step size was used for the extension phase (Fig. 2). The red line indicates the time at which the peak exion angle (30401)
occurred. The position of the FHA is expressed in the anatomical tibial coordinate system (ATCS) by the anteriorposterior (A) and proximaldistal
(B) coordinates of its intersection with the tibial sagittal plane. Positive values on the vertical axes indicate anterior and proximal positions, respectively,
with respect to the top of the intercondylar eminence of the tibia. The orientation is represented by the inclination (C) and deviation (D) with respect to the
tibial anatomical planes. Positive values on the vertical axes correspond to an axis of which the medial end points proximally and posteriorly, respectively.
Each of the three subjects is represented by the mean and standard deviation of ve running trials.

the epicondyle with little rollback (Fig. 3). This is tion of the cruciate ligaments, which moves posteriorly
consistent with recent human in vivo studies showing a with increasing exion. Similar predictions are made by
medial pivot (Komistek et al., 2003). The amount of medial 3-D mechanism models (Wilson et al., 1998). In the
inclination increased during exion (Fig. 4D). Interest extension phase of running stance, the FHA moved in
ingly, during the rst extension step, the FHA exhibited the opposite direction, i.e. anteriorly, with increasing
very little inclination in all subjects. This is consistent with extension (Fig. 4A). There was, however, about 10 mm of
our previous observation that internal tibial rotation posterior shift in the FHA between motion steps 4 and 5
reaches its peak just after peak exion (Reinschmidt et (Fig. 4A) which was unexpected. Since steps 4 and 5
al., 1997b), indicating a laxity or hysteresis in the move represent the same exion angles, such a shift is not
ment coupling between exion and internal rotation. consistent with mechanism models in which exion is the
The point of intersection of the FHA with the tibial only independent kinematic variable (Delp et al., 1990;
sagittal bisector can be regarded as the center of rotation of Wilson et al., 1998). This additional shift, which occurred
the knee joint in a sagittal plane. There was a tendency for in all subjects, may be caused either by a passive hysteresis
the axis to move posteriorly with increasing exion, a mechanism, or by muscle forces. The proximaldistal
phenomenon typically referred to as the femoral rollback position of the FHA was initially about 15 mm from the
(Fig. 4A). This nding is in agreement with the classical tibial plateau and gradually moved distally (Fig. 4B), with
two-dimensional four-bar linkage model (Huson, 1974) a proximal shift of about 10 mm between steps 3 and 5 in
which predicts that the FHA passes through the intersec all subjects. Fig. 4B can be interpreted as the ratio between

rolling and gliding in the knee. A value of zero indicates of the corresponding subject allows the display of the axes
that the FHA is on the tibial plateau, and the femur rolls relative to the subject-specic anatomy (Fig. 3). This
without gliding. An increasing distance between FHA and method for presentation is independent of coordinate
tibial plateau indicates an increasing amount of gliding systems, and allows for an unambiguous interpretation.
between the articular surfaces, for a given exion move When 3-D image data are available, rather than plane
ment. X-rays, interactive 3-D animation should be even more
These ndings have important implications for muscu effective. Such graphical techniques offer the possibility to
loskeletal modeling. The FHA translated posteriorly by present 3-D motion data for the knee joint without the
2030 mm during exion, which implies a similar increase problem of kinematic cross-talk that renders 3-D joint
in the moment arm of the quadriceps. Consequently, large angles sensitive to small errors in the denition of
errors in inverse dynamic estimates of quadriceps force anatomical coordinate axes (Blankevoort et al., 1990;
may occur if a xed axis is assumed. It would be Ramakrishnan and Kadaba, 1991). It should be noted,
impractical to measure the FHA as part of a routine however, that quantitative comparisons between subjects
inverse dynamic analysis, but based on our result, a general or movement conditions can only be performed when the
model for FHA motion during the gait cycle, may be FHA position and orientation are quantied with respect
developed. Unfortunately, a similar analysis on our to a well-dened anatomical coordinate system, as in
walking data was difcult because the amount of exion Fig. 4.
during the stance phase (when muscle forces are largest) It is concluded from this study that the axis of rotation in
was too small for a reliable estimation of FHA. knee joint during the stance phase of running moves by
The exion-dependent axis position plays a role in about 30 mm in the sagittal plane, and undergoes changes
neuromuscular control by acting as a stabilizing mechan in orientation of about 151. These axis movements, when
ism against buckling of the lower extremity (Wagner and described as a function of exion angle, had considerable
Blickhan, 2003), which is important in running stance hysteresis, which was consistent between subjects. These
(Hardin et al., 2000). A further posterior shift of 10 mm observations have important implications for the in vivo
occurred between steps 4 and 5, without change in exion analysis of muscle function through inverse dynamic
angle. This can be explained by the internal rotation of the models and for design of knee prostheses and orthoses
tibia that occurs between steps 4 and 5 (Reinschmidt et al., that allow muscles to function as they do in the natural
1997b), which occurs as a lateral rollback with medial pivot joint.
(Komistek et al., 2003). This phenomenon may produce
additional stability against buckling, since the transition
Conict of interest
from eccentric (step 4) to concentric (step 5) state of the
quadriceps function would cause muscle force to decrease
None of the authors of this manuscript have a conict of
due to the intrinsic forcevelocity relationship of muscle.
A 10 mm increase in moment arm would automatically
compensate for this loss of force. Mechanism models with
only one degree-of-freedom are unable to display such Acknowledgments
behavior. With more degrees-of-freedom in a joint model,
realistic motion is possible but the axis of rotation will This study was supported by grants from the Whitaker
become dependent on the combined forces of ligaments, Foundation (to A.J.vdB.), the Olympic Oval Endowment
articular contact, and muscles. Further research is needed Fund of Calgary (to C.R.), and the Swedish Defense
to elucidate the role of each of these elements in the control Material Administration (to A.L.). The contributions of
of the axis of rotation in the knee. Alex Stacoff, Andrzej Stano, Anna Josephson and Sandro
The results should also be considered in relation to the Nigg are greatly appreciated. We also thank Stig Drevemo
design of knee prostheses, which aim to replicate the and Christopher Johnston of the Swedish Agricultural
function of the natural joint. Constrained prostheses offer University in Uppsala for allowing us to borrow two
improved stability and can be designed with cams to cameras.
produce a helical axis that moves posteriorly as a function
of exion, to restore normal quadriceps function (Most
et al., 2003). The present study, however, shows that the
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