Scaling body support in mammals: limb posture and muscle mechanics

Date Published:

Jul 7


The scaling of bone and muscle geometry in mammals suggests that peak stresses (ratio of force to cross-sectional area) acting in these two support elements increase with increasing body size. Observations of stresses acting in the limb bones of different sized mammals during strenuous activity, however, indicate that peak bone stress is independent of size (maintaining a safety factor of between 2 and 4). It appears that similar peak bone stresses and muscle stresses in large and small mammals are achieved primarily by a size-dependent change in locomotor limb posture: small animals run with crouched postures, whereas larger species run more upright. By adopting an upright posture, large animals align their limbs more closely with the ground reaction force, substantially reducing the forces that their muscles must exert (proportional to body mass) and hence, the forces that their bones must resist, to counteract joint moments. This change in limb posture to maintain locomotor stresses within safe limits, however, likely limits the maneuverability and accelerative capability of large animals.


Biewener, A AengResearch Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.New York, N.Y.1989/07/07Science. 1989 Jul 7;245(4913):45-8.