Age-related degeneration in leg-extensor muscle–tendon units decreases recovery performance after a forward fall: compensation with running experience
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The goals of this study were to investigate whether the lower muscle–tendon units (MTUs) capacities in older affect their ability to recover balance with a single-step after a fall, and to examine whether running experience enhances and protects this motor skill in young and old adults. The investigation was conducted on 30 older and 19 younger divided into two subgroups: runners versus non-active. In previous studies we documented that the older had lower leg extensor muscle strength and tendon stiffness while running had no effect on MTUs capacities. The current study examined recovery mechanics of the same individuals after an induced forward fall. Younger were better able to recover balance with a single-step compared to older (P < 0.001); this ability was associated with a more effective body configuration at touchdown (more posterior COM position relative to the recovery foot, P <0.001). MTUs capacities classified 88.6% of the subjects into single- or multiple-steppers. Runners showed a superior ability to recover balance with a single-step (P < 0.001) compared to non-active subjects due to a more effective mechanical response during the stance phase (greater knee joint flexion, P <0.05). We concluded that the age-related degeneration of the MTUs significantly diminished the older adults’ ability to restore balance with a single-step. Running seems to enhance and protect this motor skill. We suggested that runners, due to their running experience, could update the internal representation of mechanisms responsible for the control of dynamic stability during a forward fall and, thus, were able to restore balance more often with a single-step compared to the non-active subjects.