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.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
- Muscle co-activation
- Stair ascent
- Stair descent