The effect of external loads and biological sex on coupling variability during load carriage
Background: Load carriage is a fundamental requirement for military personnel that commonly results in lower-limb injuries. Coupling variability represents a potential injury mechanism for such repetitive tasks and its unknown whether external loads and biological sex affect coupling variability during load carriage. Research question: Is there a sex-by-load interaction during load carriage at self-selected walking speeds? Methods: Twenty-six participants (13 males, 13 females) completed three 10-minute treadmill-based trials wearing body-borne external load (0 %BM, 20 %BM, and 40 %BM) at load-specific self-selected walking speeds. A Vicon motion capture system tracked markers with a lower-body direct-kinematic model calculating sagittal-plane segment kinematics of the thigh, shank, and foot across 19 strides. Continuous relative phase standard deviation (CRPv) provided a measure of coupling variability for each coupling angle (Thigh-Shank and Shank- Foot). The CRPv for each load and sex was compared using statistical parametric mapping repeated measures ANOVA and paired t tests. Results: Significant sex-by-load interactions were reported for the Thigh-Shank coupling. Males demonstrated no significant load differences in CRPv, however, females displayed significantly higher CRPv in the 40 %BM than the 0 %BM condition. A significant main effect of load was observed in the Shank-Foot coupling, with the 40 % BM having significantly greater CRPv than the other load conditions. Significance: Both biological sex and external loads significantly affected CRPv during load carriage at self-selected walking speeds. Females demonstrated greater CRPv at the heavier loads, suggesting that the perturbation from the heavier mass increases coupling variability, which may also be amplified by a greater total passive load due to their relatively higher adipose tissue compared to males. The consistent CRPv in males suggests that higher relative loads may be required to change coupling variability. Collectively, these results suggest that external load affects the coupling variability of males and females differently, providing potential for injury screening and monitoring programs.