Decreased lower limb muscle recruitment contributes to the inability of older adults to recover with a single step following a forward loss of balance
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In response to a balance disturbance, older individuals often require multiple steps to prevent a fall. Reliance on multiple steps to recover balance is predictive of a future fall, so studies should determine the mechanisms underlying differences between older adults who can and cannot recover balance with a single step. This study compared neural activation parameters of the major leg muscles during balance recovery from a sudden forward loss of balance in older individuals capable of recovering with a single step and those who required multiple steps to regain balance. Eighty-one healthy, community dwelling adults aged 70 ᠳ participated. Loss of balance was induced by releasing participants from a static forward lean. Participants performed four trials at three initial lean magnitudes and were subsequently classified as single or multiple steppers. Although step length was shorter in multiple compared to single steppers (F = 9.64; p = 0.02), no significant differences were found between groups in EMG onset time in the step limb muscles (F = 0.033-0.769; p = 0.478-0.967). However, peak EMG normalised to values obtained during maximal voluntary contraction was significantly higher in single steppers in 6 of the 7 stepping limb muscles (F = 1.054-4.167; p = 0.045-0.024). These data suggest that compared to multiple steppers, single steppers recruit a larger proportion of the available motor unit pool during balance recovery. Thus, modulation of EMG amplitude plays a larger role in balance recovery than EMG timing in this context.
Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology