Experimental Brain Research vol:230 issue:3 pages:301-10
Lateral stability during gait is of utmost importance to maintain balance. This was studied on human subjects walking on a treadmill who were given 100-ms perturbations of known magnitude and timing with respect to the gait cycle by means of a computer-controlled pneumatic device. This method has the advantage that the same perturbations can be given at different phases of the stride cycle, thereby allowing an analysis of the phase dependency of the responses in the primary muscles involved. After an inward push, e.g., a push toward the left during right stance, the left foot in the step to follow is placed more to the left (outward strategy). The hypothesis was that this movement is caused by automatic unvoluntary muscle activity. This turned out to be the case: the abduction movement follows EMG responses in the left abductor muscle, gluteus medius, in response to the push. Two responses, with latencies of 100 and 170 ms, and a late reaction >270 ms can be discerned. All three responses are phase dependent; they show facilitation in swing and no response in stance, in contrast to the normal walking activity (background). This independence of the background activity suggests a premotoneuronal gating of these responses, reminiscent of phase-dependent modulation of electrically elicited reflexes. It is concluded that facilitating pathways are opened independent of normal background activation to enable appropriate actions to restore balance after a mediolateral perturbation.