Pattern of reflex responses in lower limb muscles to a resistance in walking man

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Reflex responses in the lower limbs were investigated using electromyographic and kinematic techniques in man walking on a treadmill. A momentary resistance was applied to one leg at three selected points in the step cycle. The responses to such stimuli, as well as the locomotor activity, were picked up electromyographically and displayed on a four channel oscilloscope. Four superficial muscles viz: gluteus medius, vastus lateralis, rectus femoris and tibialis anterior were studied in both ipsilateral and contralateral legs. In general it was found that the ipsilateral leg muscles produced a response throughout the step cycle regardless of whether the muscle was active or silent at the time the reflex occurred. In contrast, contralateral leg muscles showed a different pattern of response which depended on where the resistance was applied in the step cycle. The long reflex latency, of the order of 80 ms, was a consistant feature of the responses and suggests the possible involvement of supra-spinal pathways. The latencies for a particular muscle were identical on the ipsi- and contralateral sides. The durations of the swing and stance phases of the step cycle were also recorded but showed no change due to application of the resistance. In general, the results indicate that the body has the inherent ability to reinforce the ongoing locomotor muscle activity in response to external stimuli in order to maintain upright balanced walking.