Interaction of involuntary post-contraction activity with locomotor movements
Involuntary post-contraction muscle activity may occur after performing a strong long-lasting (about 30 s) isometric muscle contraction (Kohnstamm phenomenon). Here we examined how this putative excitatory state may interact with a locomotor movement. The subjects stood upright and were asked to oppose a rotational force applied to the pelvis for about 30 s either in the clockwise or in the counterclockwise direction. After that, they were asked to perform various motor tasks with the eyes closed. During quiet standing, we observed an involuntary post-contraction torsion of the trunk. During walking, the post-contraction facilitatory effect of body torsion was not overridden by the voluntary activity, but instead significantly influenced the forward locomotor program such that subjects walked along a curved trajectory in the direction of the preceding torsion. In contrast, we did not observe any rotational component when subjects were asked to step in place. We conclude that the post-contraction rotational aftereffect does not transfer to just any motor task but apparently manifests itself in those movements that incorporate the activated axial muscle synergy or rotational component. We argue that central excitability changes following the voluntary effort may contribute to the phenomenon and highlight the role of tonic influences in fine-tuning of the spinal cord.