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Control of human mandibular posture during locomotion

By Timothy S Miles, Stanley C Flavel and Michael A Nordstrom


Mandibular movements and masseter muscle activity were measured in humans during hopping, walking and running to determine whether reflexes contribute to the maintenance of jaw position during locomotion. In initial experiments, subjects hopped so that they landed either on their toes or on their heel. Landing on the toes provoked only small mandibular movements and no reflex responses in the masseter electromyogram (EMG). Landing on the heels with the jaw muscles relaxed caused the mandible to move vertically downwards relative to the maxilla, and evoked a brisk reflex response in the masseter at monosynaptic latency. Neither this relative movement of the mandible nor the reflex was seen when the teeth were clenched: hence the reflex is not the result of vestibular activation during head movement. The same variables were measured in a second series of experiments while subjects stood, walked and ran at various speeds and at various inclinations on a treadmill. During walking, the vertical movements of the head and therefore the mandible were slow and small, and there was no tonic masseter EMG or gait-related activity in the jaw-closing muscles. When subjects ran, the vertical head and jaw movement depended on the running speed and the inclination of the treadmill. Landing on the heels induced larger movements than landing on the toes. About 10 ms after each foot-strike, the mandible moved downwards relative to the maxilla, thereby stretching the jaw-closing muscles and activating them at segmental reflex latency. This caused the mandible to move back upwards. The strength of the reflex response was related to the speed and amplitude of the vertical jaw movement following landing. It is concluded that, during walking, the small, slow movements of the mandible relative to the maxilla are subthreshold for stretch reflexes in the jaw muscles: i.e. the mandible is supported by visco-elasticity of the soft tissues in the masticatory system. However, the brisker downward movements of the mandible after heel-landing during hopping and running evoke segmental reflex responses which contribute to the active maintenance of the posture of the mandible. This is a unique demonstration of how a stretch reflex operates to maintain posture under entirely natural conditions

Topics: Research Papers
Publisher: Blackwell Science Inc
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Provided by: PubMed Central
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