Ankle muscle responses during perturbed walking with blocked ankle joints

Mark Vlutters, Edwin H.F. van Asseldonk*, Herman van der Kooij

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

    4 Citations (Scopus)
    18 Downloads (Pure)


    The ankle joint muscles can contribute to balance during walking by modulating the center of pressure and ground reaction forces through an ankle moment. This is especially effective in the sagittal plane through ankle plantar- or dorsiflexion. If the ankle joints were to be physically blocked to make an ankle strategy ineffective, there would be no functional contribution of these muscles to balance during walking, nor would these muscles generate afferent output regarding ankle joint rotation. Consequently, ankle muscle activation for the purpose of balance control would be expected to disappear. We have performed an experiment in which subjects received anteroposterior pelvis perturbations during walking while their ankle joints could not contribute to the balance recovery. The latter was realized by physically blocking the ankle joints through a pair of modified ankle-foot orthoses. In this article we present the lower limb muscle activity responses in reaction to these perturbations. Of particular interest are the tibialis anterior and gastrocnemius medialis muscles, which could not contribute to the balance recovery through the ankle joint or encode muscle length changes caused by ankle joint rotation. Yet, these muscles showed long-latency responses, ~100 ms after perturbation onset. The response amplitudes were dependent on the perturbation magnitude and direction, as well as the state of the leg. The results imply that ankle muscle responses can be evoked without changes in proprioceptive information of those muscles through ankle rotation. This suggest a more centralized regulation of balance control, not strictly related to the ankle joint kinematics. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Walking human subjects received forward- backward perturbations at the pelvis while wearing “pin-shoes,” a pair of modified ankle-foot orthoses that physically blocked ankle joint movement and reduced the base of support of each foot to a single point. The lower leg muscles showed long-latency perturbationdependent activity changes, despite having no functional contributions to balance control through the ankle joint and not having been subjected to muscle length changes through ankle joint rotation.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1711-1717
    Number of pages7
    JournalJournal of neurophysiology
    Issue number5
    Early online date24 Apr 2019
    Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2019


    • Ankle joint
    • Balance control
    • Disturbance-invoked muscle activity
    • Perturbed human walking
    • Postural adjustments
    • 22/4 OA procedure


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