Musculoskeletal Differences in Foot Structure Improves Sprint Performance

Open Access
Novack, Thomas Alexander
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Stephen Jacob Piazza, Thesis Supervisor
  • Jinger S. Gottschall, Faculty Reader
  • Stephen Jacob Piazza, Honors Advisor
  • Musculoskeletal
  • ankle
  • locomotion
  • Achilles tendon
  • sprint performance
During a race sprinters need to generate large forward impulses to reach top speeds during a race. Trained sprinters work to maximize their biomechanical parameters to achieve the fastest times possible. Past research has shown that trained sprinters are biomechanically different from non-sprint trained athletes, but many questions remained which variables, and to what extent, were different between the two groups. Eight trained sprinters and eight height-matched controls underwent magnetic resonance (MR) imaging of their lower legs and feet. Subjects’ right ankles were scanned at four different joint angles according to a previously-developed protocol. Achilles tendon moment arm length, first toe length, first metatarsal length, first ray length, and first ray to moment arm ratio were all shown to be significantly different between the two groups at the p=0.05 level. Sprinters were shown to have smaller Achilles tendon moment arms, which would allow them to generate the same amount of foot motion through a smaller change in muscle length, allowing the foot plantarflexor muscles to maintain a better position on the muscle force-velocity curve. Sprinters were also found to have longer toes than non-sprinters despite having feet that were the same size, suggesting a structural change to allow sprinters to generate greater forward impulse during the acceleration phase of the race. Further research will be directed towards understanding how similar differences in musculoskeletal structure might be indicative of locomotor ability later in life.