The goal of this study was to gain insight into how ankle exoskeletons affect the behavior of the plantarflexor muscles during walking. Using data from previous experiments, we performed electromyography-driven simulations of musculoskeletal dynamics to explore how changes in exoskeleton assistance affected plantarflexor muscle-tendon mechanics, particularly for the soleus. We used a model of muscle energy consumption to estimate individual muscle metabolic rate. As average exoskeleton torque was increased, while no net exoskeleton work was provided, a reduction in tendon recoil led to an increase in positive mechanical work performed by the soleus muscle fibers. As net exoskeleton work was increased, both soleus muscle fiber force and positive mechanical work decreased. Trends in the sum of the metabolic rates of the simulated muscles correlated well with trends in experimentally-observed whole-body metabolic rate (R2 = 0.9), providing confidence in our model estimates. Our simulation results suggest that different exoskeleton behaviors can alter the functioning of the muscles and tendons acting at the assisted joint. Furthermore, our results support the idea that the series tendon helps reduce positive work done by the muscle fibers by storing and returning energy elastically. We expect the results from this study to promote the use of electromyography-driven simulations to gain insight into the operation of muscle-tendon units and to guide the design and control of assistive devices.
- Received September 30, 2016.
- Accepted March 21, 2017.
- © 2017. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd