Manual digital pressures during knuckle-walking in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes)



Considerable attention has been given to hand morphology and function associated with knuckle-walking in the African apes because of the implications they have for the evolution of bipedalism in early hominins. Knuckle-walking is associated with a unique suite of musculoskeletal features of the wrist and hand, and numerous studies have hypothesized that these anatomical features are associated with the dynamics of load distribution across the digits during knuckle-walking. We collected dynamic digital pressures on two chimpanzees during terrestrial and simulated arboreal locomotion. Comparisons were made across substrates, limb positions, hand positions, and age categories. Peak digital pressures were similar on the pole and on the ground but were distributed differently across the digits on each substrate. In young animals, pressure was equally high on digits 2–4 on the ground but higher on digits 3 and 4 on the pole. Older animals experience higher pressures on digits 2 and 3 on the ground. Hand posture (palm-in vs. palm-back) influenced the distribution and timing of peak pressures. Age-related increases in body mass also result in higher overall pressures and increased variation across the digital row. In chimpanzees, digit 5 typically bears relatively little load regardless of hand position or substrate. These are the first quantitative data on digital pressures during knuckle-walking in hominoids, and they afford the opportunity to develop hypotheses about variation among hominoids and biomechanical models of wrist and forearm loading. Am J Phys Anthropol 2009. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.