Background A shock-absorbing pylon (SAP) is a modular prosthetic component designed to attenuate impact forces, which unlike traditional pylons that are rigid, can compress to absorb, return, or dissipate energy. Previous studies found that walking with a SAP improved lower-limb prosthesis users’ comfort and residual limb pain. While longitudinal stiffness of a SAP has been shown to affect gait kinematics, kinetics, and work done by the entire lower limb, the energetic contributions from the prosthesis and the intact joints have not been examined. The purpose of this study was to determine the effects of SAP stiffness and walking speed on the mechanical work contributions of the prosthesis (i.e., all components distal to socket), knee, and hip in individuals with a transtibial amputation. Methods Twelve participants with unilateral transtibial amputation walked overground at their customary (1.22 ± 0.18 ms−1) and fast speeds (1.53 ± 0.29 ms−1) under four different levels of SAP stiffness. Power and mechanical work profiles of the leg joints and components distal to the socket were quantified. The effects of SAP stiffness and walking speed on positive and negative work were analyzed using two-factor (stiffness and speed) repeated-measure ANOVAs (α = 0.05). Results Faster walking significantly increased mechanical work from the SAP-integrated prosthesis (p < 0.001). Reducing SAP stiffness increased the magnitude of prosthesis negative work (energy absorption) during early stance (p = 0.045) by as much as 0.027 Jkg−1, without affecting the positive work (energy return) during late stance (p = 0.159), suggesting a damping effect. This energy loss was partially offset by an increase in residual hip positive work (as much as 0.012 Jkg−1) during late stance (p = 0.045). Reducing SAP stiffness also reduced the magnitude of negative work on the contralateral sound limb during early stance by 11–17% (p = 0.001). Conclusions Reducing SAP stiffness and faster walking amplified the prostheses damping effect, which redistributed the mechanical work, both in magnitude and timing, within the residual joints and sound limb. With its capacity to absorb and dissipate energy, future studies are warranted to determine whether SAPs can provide additional user benefit for locomotor tasks that require greater attenuation of impact forces (e.g., load carriage) or energy dissipation (e.g., downhill walking). Supplementary Information The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1186/s12984-021-00939-8.