Neuromuscular Coordination during Slope Walking
Lay, Andrea N.
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The biomechanics and muscle activity of forward and backward slope walking was investigated in humans to gain additional insight into neural control strategies. An adjustable instrumented ramped walkway was constructed and validated. Kinematic, ground reaction force, and muscle activity data were collected from nine subjects walking at three grades (0%, 15%, and 39%) for each of four conditions (forward upslope and downslope and backward upslope and downslope). The changes observed in the data were generally progressive from 0% to 15% to 39% grade. During forward downslope walking the joint moment pattern at the knee changed significantly, power absorption increased, and changes in the muscle activity patterns corresponded directly to changes in joint mechanics. During forward upslope walking, the hip joint moment pattern changed significantly, power generation increased, and changes in the muscle activity pattern were not directly related to changes in the joint moments at all joints. The muscle activity pattern data suggest that modifications to the level walking control strategies were necessary during slope walking. Backward slope walking was used to further explore these findings. Backward upslope and forward downslope kinematics and kinetics were similar, as were those from backward downslope and forward upslope walking. However, power generation increased during upslope walking tasks and power absorption increased during downslope walking tasks, and the changes in muscle firing patterns were more similar for these tasks than for those with similar kinetics. Increased power generation required compensatory muscle activity at adjacent joints that was not directly related to the moments at those joints; increased power absorption did not require such compensatory activity, and muscle activity was directly related to the joint moments. Overall, these data suggest that changes in the control strategy and/or modifications of the level walking control strategy are strongly influenced by the power demands of a task. The characterization of forward and backward slope walking presented here is novel and has important implications for many patient populations; knowledge of the task mechanics may be used to develop or improve physical therapy and rehabilitation exercise programs as well as the design of replacement and/or assistive devices.