Human gait requires the simultaneous generation of goal-directed continuous movement (locomotion) and the maintenance of balance (postural control). In adults, the centre of mass (CoM) oscillates in the vertical plane while walking. During the single support phase of gait initiation, its vertical (vCoM) velocity increases as the CoM falls and is actively reversed prior to foot-contact. In this study we investigated whether this active control, which is thought to reflect balance control during gait initiation, is controlled by visual and somatosensory inputs (Experiment 1) and whether it is modified by a change in motor demands, two steps versus one step (Experiment 2). In all healthy adults, the vCoM velocity was braked, or controlled, by contraction of the soleus muscle of the stance leg. The elimination of visual input alone had no effect on braking, although its amplitude decreased when somatosensory inputs were disrupted (-47%), and further decreased when both visual and somatosensory inputs were disrupted (-83%). When subjects performed only one step, with no trailing of the stance foot, the vCoM velocity braking also decreased (-42%). These results suggest that active braking of the CoM fall during the transition to double support, an indicator of balance control, is influenced by both multisensory integration and the demands of the current motor program. The neural structures involved in this mechanism remain to be elucidated.
- Gait initiation
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