The effects of human ankle muscle vibration on posture and balance during adaptive locomotion

KL Sorensen, Mark Hollands, AE Patla

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

55 Citations (Scopus)


This study investigated the contribution of ankle muscle proprioception to the control of dynamic stability and lower limb kinematics during adaptive locomotion, by using mechanical vibration to alter the muscle spindle output of individuals' stance limbs. It was hypothesised that muscle length information from the ankle of the stance limb provides information describing location as well as acceleration of the centre of mass (COM) with respect to the support foot during the swing phase of locomotion. Our prediction, based on this hypothesis was that ankle muscle vibration would cause changes to the position and acceleration of the COM and/or compensatory postural responses. Vibrators were attached to both the stance limb ankle plantarflexors (at the Achilles tendon) and the opposing dorsiflexor muscle group (over tibialis anterior). Participants were required to walk along a 9-m travel path and step over any obstacles placed in their way. There were three task conditions: (1) an obstacle (15 cm in height) was positioned at the midpoint of the walkway prior to the start of the trial, (2) the same obstacle was triggered to appear unexpectedly one step in front of the participant at the walkway midpoint and (3) the subjects' walking path remained clear. The participants' starting position was manipulated so that the first step over the obstacle (when present) was always performed with their right leg. For each obstacle condition participants experienced the following vibration conditions: no vibration, vibration of the left leg calf muscles or vibration of the anterior compartment muscles of the lower left leg. Vibration began one step before the obstacle at left leg heel contact and continued for 1 s. Vibrating the ankle muscles of the stance limb during the step over an obstacle resulted in significant changes to COM behaviour [measured as displacement, acceleration and position with respect to the centre of pressure (COP)] in both the medial/lateral (M/L) and anterior/posterior planes. There were also significant task-specific changes in stepping behaviour associated with COM control (measured as peak M/L acceleration, M/L foot displacement and COP position under the stance foot during the step over the obstacle). The results provide strong evidence that the primary endings of ankle muscle spindles play a significant role in the control of posture and balance during the swing phase of locomotion by providing information describing the movement of the body's COM with respect to the support foot. Our results also provide supporting evidence for the proposal that there are context-dependent changes in muscle spindle sensitivity during human locomotion.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)24-34
Number of pages11
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2002


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