Kinematic and dynamic aspects of chimpanzee knuckle walking: Finger flexors likely do not buffer ground impact forces

J.N. Leijnse*, C.W. Spoor, P. Pullens, E.E. Vereecke

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Chimpanzees are knuckle walkers, with forelimbs contacting the ground by the dorsum of the finger's middle phalanges. As these muscular apes are given to high-velocity motions, the question arises of how the ground reaction forces are buffered so that no damage ensues in the load-bearing fingers. In the literature, it was hypothesized that the finger flexors help buffer impacts because in knuckle stance the metacarpophalangeal joints (MCPJs) are strongly hyperextended, which would elongate the finger flexors. This stretching of the finger flexor muscle-tendon units would absorb impact energy. However, EMG studies did not report significant finger flexor activity in knuckle walking. Although these data by themselves question the finger flexor impact buffering hypothesis, the present study aimed to critically investigate the hypothesis from a biomechanical point of view. Therefore, various aspects of knuckle walking were modeled and the finger flexor tendon displacements in the load-bearing fingers were measured in a chimpanzee cadaver hand, of which also an MRI was taken in knuckle stance. The biomechanics do not support the finger flexor impact buffering hypothesis. In knuckle walking, the finger flexors are not elongated to lengths where passive strain forces would become important. Impact buffering by large flexion moments at the MCPJs from active finger flexors would result in impacts at the knuckles themselves, which is dysfunctional for various biomechanical reasons and does not occur in real knuckle walking. In conclusion, the current biomechanical analysis in accumulation of previous EMG findings suggests that finger flexors play no role in impact buffering in knuckle walking.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberjeb236604
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number19
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021


  • Anatomy
  • Biomechanics
  • Hand
  • Locomotion
  • Morphology
  • Pan troglodytes


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