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Biomechanics and Neural Control of Walking: The Effects of Cognitive Load on Limb Muscle Activity in Forward and Backward Walking

By Nicole Y Tan


The present study explores the role of a cognitive task on gait characteristics and muscle activation of distal limbs during forward and backward walking. Fifteen healthy young adults walked on a treadmill at a self-selected speed, while simultaneously recording kinematic and electromyographic (EMG) data. The four experimental conditions included forward walking, backward walking, forward walking with a cognitive task, and backward walking with a cognitive task. We compared muscle activation of gastrocnemius (GM) and tibialis anterior (TA) and relative timing of GM and TA peak activity in the gait cycle under each condition. We hypothesized that the combination of walking direction and cognitive load will increase muscle activation in GM and TA, as well as shift peak GM and TA activity relative to the norm activity of forward walking. Results found that GM and TA muscle activity was greatest during backward walking, and least during forward walking. This suggests that a large number of motor units are recruited due to the novelty of backward walking movement, and it is likely that peripheral sensory feedback and descending input from the brain are involved in controlling this movement. Additionally, GM activity shifted earlier, and TA activity shifted later during the stride in the three other walking conditions relative to the baseline condition of forward walking. This may be explained by the different mechanics of backward walking and supports kinematic data of backward walking found in previous studies. Our findings suggest that the presence of a cognitive task did not have much effect on muscle activity and motor patterns of forward and backward walking. The kinematic and EMG differences seen between these two modes of walking are mainly attributed to the directionality of walking. This may provide insight into treatments for improving human gait and dual-tasking abilities in patients with neurodegenerative diseases

Topics: Dance
Publisher: Scholarship @ Claremont
Year: 2020
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Provided by: Scholarship@Claremont
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