Falls in the aging population are a major public health concern. Outdoor falls in community-dwelling older adults are often triggered by uneven pedestrian walkways. Our understanding of the motor control adaptations to walk over an uneven surface, and the effects of aging on these adaptations is sparse. Here, we study changes in muscle co-contraction, a clinically accepted measure of motor control, due to changes in walking surfaces typically encountered in the outdoor built environment. We address the following research questions: 1) are there walking surface and sex-based differences in muscle co-contractions between young and older adults? and 2) is muscle co-contraction associated with age? We calculated muscle co-contractions from 13 young and 17 older adults during walking at self-selected speeds over even and uneven brick walkways. Muscle co-contraction at the ankle joint was determined from the tibialis anterior and lateral gastrocnemius muscle pair, and at the knee joint from the rectus femoris and semitendinosus muscle pair. Older adults displayed 8–13% greater ankle muscle co-contractions during walking over uneven compared to even surfaces. We found 55–61% (entire gait) and 73–75% (stance phase) greater ankle muscle co-contractions in older females compared to older males during walking over even and uneven surfaces. We found 31–43% greater knee muscle co-contractions in older females compared to older males during the swing phase of walking over even and uneven surfaces. This study underscores the need for determining muscle co-contractions from even and uneven surfaces for quantifying motor control deficits due to aging or neuromuscular disorders.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Biomedical Engineering
- Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
- Irregular surface
- Muscle coactivation