Mechanical and neural stretch responses of the human soleus muscle at different walking speeds

Neil J Cronin, Masaki Ishikawa, Michael J Grey, Richard af Klint, Paavo V Komi, Janne Avela, Thomas Sinkjaer, Michael Voigt

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During human walking, a sudden trip may elicit a Ia afferent fibre mediated short latency stretch reflex. The aim of this study was to investigate soleus (SOL) muscle mechanical behaviour in response to dorsiflexion perturbations, and to relate this behaviour to short latency stretch reflex responses. Twelve healthy subjects walked on a treadmill with the left leg attached to an actuator capable of rapidly dorsiflexing the ankle joint. Ultrasound was used to measure fascicle lengths in SOL during walking, and surface electromyography (EMG) was used to record muscle activation. Dorsiflexion perturbations of 6 deg were applied during mid-stance at walking speeds of 3, 4 and 5 km h(-1). At each walking speed, perturbations were delivered at three different velocities (slow: approximately 170 deg s(-1), mid: approximately 230 deg s(-1), fast: approximately 280 deg s(-1)). At 5 km h(-1), fascicle stretch amplitude was 34-40% smaller and fascicle stretch velocity 22-28% slower than at 3 km h(-1) in response to a constant amplitude perturbation, whilst stretch reflex amplitudes were unchanged. Changes in fascicle stretch parameters can be attributed to an increase in muscle stiffness at faster walking speeds. As stretch velocity is a potent stimulus to muscle spindles, a decrease in the velocity of fascicle stretch at faster walking speeds would be expected to decrease spindle afferent feedback and thus stretch reflex amplitudes, which did not occur. It is therefore postulated that other mechanisms, such as altered fusimotor drive, reduced pre-synaptic inhibition and/or increased descending excitatory input, acted to maintain motoneurone output as walking speed increased, preventing a decrease in short latency reflex amplitudes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3375-3382
Number of pages8
JournalThe Journal of Physiology
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2009

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