Background: In spastic cerebral palsy (SCP), a limited range of motion of the foot (ROM), limits gait and other activities. Assessment of this limitation of ROM and knowledge of active mechanisms is of crucial importance for clinical treatment. Methods. For a comparison between spastic cerebral palsy (SCP) children and typically developing children (TD), medial gastrocnemius muscle-tendon complex length was assessed using 3-D ultrasound imaging techniques, while exerting externally standardized moments via a hand-held dynamometer. Exemplary X-ray imaging of ankle and foot was used to confirm possible TD-SCP differences in foot deformation. Results: SCP and TD did not differ in normalized level of excitation (EMG) of muscles studied. For given moments exerted in SCP, foot plate angles were all more towards plantar flexion than in TD. However, foot plate angle proved to be an invalid estimator of talocrural joint angle, since at equal foot plate angles, GM muscle-tendon complex was shorter in SCP (corresponding to an equivalent of 1 cm). A substantial difference remained even after normalizing for individual differences in tibia length. X-ray imaging of ankle and foot of one SCP child and two typically developed adults, confirmed that in SCP that of total footplate angle changes (0-4 Nm: 15°), the contribution of foot deformation to changes in foot plate angle (8) were as big as the contribution of dorsal flexion at the talocrural joint (7°). In typically developed individuals there were relatively smaller contributions (10 -11%) by foot deformation to changes in foot plate angle, indicating that the contribution of talocrural angle changes was most important.Using a new estimate for position at the talocrural joint (the difference between GM muscle-tendon complex length and tibia length, GM relative length) removed this effect, thus allowing more fair comparison of SCP and TD data. On the basis of analysis of foot plate angle and GM relative length as a function of externally applied moments, it is concluded that foot plate angle measurements underestimate angular changes at the talocrural joint when moving in dorsal flexion direction and overestimate them when moving in plantar flexion direction, with concomitant effects on triceps surae lengths. Conclusions: In SCP children diagnosed with decreased dorsal ROM of the ankle joint, the commonly used measure (i.e. range of foot plate angle), is not a good estimate of rotation at the talocrural joint. since a sizable part of the movement of the foot (or foot plate) derives from internal deformation of the foot. © 2013 Huijing et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.