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PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e37390. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0037390. Epub 2012 May 16.

Movement behavior of high-heeled walking: how does the nervous system control the ankle joint during an unstable walking condition?

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Department of Neuroscience and Pharmacology, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark.


The human locomotor system is flexible and enables humans to move without falling even under less than optimal conditions. Walking with high-heeled shoes constitutes an unstable condition and here we ask how the nervous system controls the ankle joint in this situation? We investigated the movement behavior of high-heeled and barefooted walking in eleven female subjects. The movement variability was quantified by calculation of approximate entropy (ApEn) in the ankle joint angle and the standard deviation (SD) of the stride time intervals. Electromyography (EMG) of the soleus (SO) and tibialis anterior (TA) muscles and the soleus Hoffmann (H-) reflex were measured at 4.0 km/h on a motor driven treadmill to reveal the underlying motor strategies in each walking condition. The ApEn of the ankle joint angle was significantly higher (p<0.01) during high-heeled (0.38±0.08) than during barefooted walking (0.28±0.07). During high-heeled walking, coactivation between the SO and TA muscles increased towards heel strike and the H-reflex was significantly increased in terminal swing by 40% (p<0.01). These observations show that high-heeled walking is characterized by a more complex and less predictable pattern than barefooted walking. Increased coactivation about the ankle joint together with increased excitability of the SO H-reflex in terminal swing phase indicates that the motor strategy was changed during high-heeled walking. Although, the participants were young, healthy and accustomed to high-heeled walking the results demonstrate that that walking on high-heels needs to be controlled differently from barefooted walking. We suggest that the higher variability reflects an adjusted neural strategy of the nervous system to control the ankle joint during high-heeled walking.

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