Many studies have assumed that the swing phase of human walking at preferred velocity is largely passive and thus highly analogous to the swing of an unforced pendulum. In other words, while swing-phase joint moments are generally nonzero during swing, it was assumed that they were either zero or at least negligibly small compared to gravity. While neglect of joint moments does not invalidate a study by default, it remains that the limitations of such an assumption have not been explored thoroughly. This paper makes five arguments that the swing phase cannot be passive, using both original data and the literature: (1) Computer simulations of the swing phase require muscular control to be accurate. (2) Swing-phase joint moments, while smaller than those during stance, are still greater than those due to gravity. (3) Gravity accounts for a minority of the total kinetics of a swing phase. (4) The kinetics due to gravity do not have the pattern needed to develop a normal swing phase. (5) There is no correlation between pendular swing times and human walking periods in overground walking. The conclusion of this paper is that the swing phase must be an actively controlled process, and should be assumed to be passive only when a study does not require a quantitative result. This conclusion has significant implications for many areas of gait research, including clinical study, control theory, and mechanical modeling.
The authors are with the Department of Exercise Science, Totman Bldg., University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, MA 01003.