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J Neurophysiol. 2009 Apr;101(4):1705-12. doi: 10.1152/jn.91175.2008. Epub 2009 Jan 21.

Sudden drop in ground support produces force-related unload response in human overground walking.

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  • 1Center for Sensory-Motor Interaction, Fredrik Bajers Vej 7D, DK-9220 Aalborg, Denmark.


Humans maneuver easily over uneven terrain. To maintain smooth and efficient gait the motor system needs to adapt the locomotor output to the walking environment. In the present study we investigate the role of sensory feedback in adjusting the soleus muscle activity during overground walking in 19 healthy volunteers. Subjects walked unrestrained over a hydraulically actuated platform. On random trials the platform was accelerated downward at 0.8 g, unloading the plantar flexor muscles in midstance or late stance. The drop of the platform resulted in a significant depression of the soleus muscle activity of -17.9% (SD 2) and -21.4% (SD 2), with an onset latency of 49 ms (SD 1) and 45 ms (SD 1) in midstance and late stance, respectively. Input to the vestibular apparatus (i.e., the head acceleration) occurred at a latency 10.0 ms (SD 2.4) following the drop and ankle dorsiflexion velocity was decreased starting 22 ms (SD 15) after the drop. To investigate the role of length- and velocity-sensitive afferents on the depression in soleus muscle activity, the ankle rotation was arrested by using an ankle foot orthotic as the platform was dropped. Preventing the ankle movement did not significantly change the soleus depression in late stance [-18.2% (SD 15)], whereas the depression in midstance was removed [+4.9% (SD 13)]. It is concluded that force feedback from ankle extensors increases the locomotor output through positive feedback in late stance. In midstance the effect of force feedback was not observed, suggesting that spindle afferents may have a more significant effect on the output during this phase of the step cycle.

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