Mechanics of locomotion and jumping in the forelimb of the horse (Equus): in vivo stress developed in the radius and metacarpus


Anatomy Department, University of Chicago, 1025 East 57th Street, Chicago, 1L 60637 U.S.A.


Principal stresses acting in the midshafts of the radius and metacarpus of the horse were determined from in vivo strain recordings during locomotion and jumping. Ground forces and limb position were also recorded. Over a range of speed and gait the radius was subjected to considerable bending, whereas the metacarpus was loaded primarily in axial compression. As a result, peak stresses acting in the radius (maximum: –45 MN/m2) were consistently 50% greater than those acting in the metacarpus (maximum: –31 MN/m2). The increase in peak bone stress (radius: 119% and metacarpus; 114%) with increasing speed was matched by a 103% increase in the mass-specific vertical force (Av) exerted on the limb and a 55% decline in duty factor of the limb. The forelimb was closely aligned with the direction of ground force during the support phase (<9° when peak force acted) to minimize bending forces exerted on the distal limb bones. Hence, bending of the radius resulted mainly from axial forces acting about its longitudinal curvature. This was in contrast to the metacarpus, which is a much straighter bone.

Significantly greater stresses were recorded in each bone during jumping: –81 MN/m2 in the radius and –53 MN/m2 in the metacarpus. While the distribution of loading in the radius was similar to that during steady state locomotion, greater variability in the magnitude and/or distribution of metacarpal loading was observed between animals, largely due to differences in the orientation of the limb during takeoff and landing. These data demonstrate that the horse, despite its large size, maintains a safety factor of nearly 3–4 during peak performance.