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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2011 May 27;366(1570):1565-79. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2010.0355.

Neuromuscular strategies for the transitions between level and hill surfaces during walking.

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Department of Kinesiology, The Pennsylvania State University, 029J Recreation Hall, University Park, PA 16802, USA.


Despite continual fluctuations in walking surface properties, humans and animals smoothly transition between terrains in their natural surroundings. Walking transitions have the potential to influence dynamic balance in both the anterior-posterior and medial-lateral directions, thereby increasing fall risk and decreasing mobility. The goal of the current manuscript is to provide a review of the literature that pertains to the topic of surface slope transitions between level and hill surfaces, as well as report the recent findings of two experiments that focus on the neuromuscular strategies of surface slope transitions. Our results indicate that in anticipation of a change in surface slope, neuromuscular patterns during level walking prior to a hill are significantly different from the patterns during level walking without the future change in surface. Typically, the changes in muscle activity were due to co-contraction of opposing muscle groups and these changes correspond to modifications in head pitch. In addition, further experiments revealed that the neck proprioceptors may be an initial source of feedback for upcoming surface slope transitions. Together, these results illustrate that in order to safely traverse varying surfaces, transitions strides are functionally distinct from either level walking or hill walking independently.

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