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J Neurophysiol. 1999 Jun;81(6):2914-22.

Turning strategies during human walking.

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Division of Neuroscience, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2S2, Canada.


The mechanisms involved in rapidly turning during human walking were studied. Subjects were asked to walk at a comfortable speed and to turn toward the instructed direction as soon as they felt an electrical stimulus to the superficial peroneal nerve. Stimuli were presented repeatedly at random over 10- to 15-min periods of walking for turning in both directions. Electromyograms (EMGs), joint angular movements of the right leg, and forces under both feet were recorded. The step cycle was divided into 16 parts, and the responses to stimuli in each part were analyzed separately. Two turning strategies were used, depending on which leg was placed in front for braking. For example, to turn to the right when the right foot was placed in front, subjects generally altered direction by spinning the body around the right foot (spin turn). To turn left when the right foot was in front, subjects shifted weight to the right leg, externally rotated the left hip, stepped onto the left leg, and continued turning until the right leg stepped in the new direction (step turn). The step turn is easy and stable because the base of support during the turn is much wider than in the spin turn, so some subjects used it in all parts of the cycle. Initially, the deceleration of walking is similar to a rapid stopping task, which has been previously examined. The deceleration mechanism involves a sequence of distal-to-proximal activation of muscles on one side of the body (soleus, biceps femoris, and erector spinae). This pattern is similar to the "ankle strategy" used in postural control during forward sway. The control of foot placement in the swing leg and muscle activities for rotating the trunk in the stance leg occurred within a step after the cue. The action of ankle inverters and elevation of the pelvis by activity of gluteus medius may contribute to the control of trunk rotation. This activity was closely related to the timing of the opposite foot strike, independent of the part of the step cycle when the stimulus was applied. In most subjects, the turn was completed without resetting the underlying walking rhythm. This first EMG analysis of rapid turning shows how common strategies for postural sway and stopping can be combined with one of two turning strategies. This simplifies the complex task of turning at a random time in the step cycle.

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