Knee muscle co-contractions are greater in old compared to young adults during walking and stair use

Vishnu D. Chandran, J. A. Calalo, Philippe C. Dixon, Jack T. Dennerlein, Jeffrey M. Schiffman, Saikat Pal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Background: Muscle co-contraction is an accepted clinical measure to quantify the effects of aging on neuromuscular control and movement efficiency. However, evidence of increased muscle co-contraction in old compared to young adults remains inconclusive. Research Question: Are there differences in lower-limb agonist/antagonist muscle co-contractions in young and old adults, and males and females, during walking and stair use? Methods: In a retrospective study, we analyzed data from 20 healthy young and 19 healthy old adults during walking, stair ascent, and stair descent at self-selected speeds, including marker trajectories, ground reaction force, and electromyography activity. We calculated muscle co-contraction at the knee (vastus lateralis vs. biceps femoris) and ankle (tibialis anterior vs. medial gastrocnemius) using the ratio of the common area under a muscle pairs’ filtered and normalized electromyography curves to the sum of the areas under each muscle in that pair. Results: Old compared to young adults displayed 18%–22% greater knee muscle co-contractions during the entire cycle of stair use activities. We found greater (17%–29%) knee muscle co-contractions in old compared to young adults during the swing phase of walking and stair use. We found no difference in ankle muscle co-contractions between the two age groups during all three activities. We found no difference in muscle co-contraction between males and females at the knee and ankle joints for all three activities. Significance: Based on our findings, we recommend clinical evaluation to quantify the effects of aging through muscle co-contraction to include the knee joint during dynamic activities like walking and stair use, and independent evaluation of the stance and swing phases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)315-322
Number of pages8
JournalGait and Posture
StatePublished - Sep 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biophysics
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Rehabilitation


  • EMG
  • Gait
  • Muscle co-activation
  • Stair ascent
  • Stair descent


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