Journal of Neurophysiology issue:108 pages:1933-1941
During human locomotion, cutaneous reﬂexes have been suggested to function to preserve balance. Speciﬁcally, cutaneous reﬂexes in the contralateral leg’s muscles (with respect to the stimulus) were suggested to play an important role in maintaining stability during locomotor tasks where stability is threatened. We used backward walking (BW) as a paradigm to induce unstable gait and analyzed the cutaneous reﬂex activity in both ipsilateral and contralateral lower limb muscles after stimulation of the sural nerve at different phases of the gait cycle.
In BW, the tibialis anterior (TA) reﬂex activity in the contralateral leg was markedly higher than TA background EMG activity during its stance phase. In addition, in BW a substantial reﬂex suppression was observed in the ipsilateral biceps femoris during the stance-swing transition in some participants, while for medial gastrocnemius the reﬂex activity was equal to background activity in both legs. To test whether the pronounced crossed responses in TA could be related to instability, the responses were correlated with measures of stability (short-term maximum Lyapunov exponents and step width). These measures were higher for BW compared with forward walking, indicating that BW is less stable. However, there was no signiﬁcant correlation between these measures and the amplitude of the crossed TA responses in BW. It is therefore proposed that these crossed responses are related to an attempt to brieﬂy slow down (TA decelerates the center of mass in the single-stance period) in the light of unexpected perturbations, such as provided by the sural nerve stimulation.