Sensory information conveyed along afferent fibers from muscle and joint proprioceptors play an important role in the control of posture and gait in humans. In particular, proprioceptive information from the neck is fundamental in supplying the central nervous system with information about the orientation and movement of the head relative to the rest of the body. The previous studies have confirmed that proprioceptive afferences originating from the neck region, evoked via muscle vibration, lead to strong body-orienting effects during static conditions (e.g., leaning of the body forwards or backwards, depending on location of vibration). However, it is not yet certain in humans, whether the somatosensory receptors located in the deep skin (cutaneous mechanoreceptors) have a substantive contribution to postural control, as vibratory stimulation encompasses the receptive field of all the somatosensory receptors from the skin to the muscles. The aim of this study was to investigate the postural effect of cutaneous mechanoreceptor afferences using electro-tactile stimulation applied to the neck. Ten healthy volunteers (8M, 2F) were evaluated. The average position of their centre of foot pressure (CoP) was acquired before, during, and after a subtle electro-tactile stimulation over their posterior neck (mean ± SD = 5.1 ± 2.3 mA at 100 Hz—140% of the perception threshold) during upright stance with their eyes closed. The electro-tactile stimulation led to a body-orienting effect with the subjects consistently leaning forward. An average shift of the CoP of 12.1 ± 11.9 mm (mean ± SD) was reported, which significantly (p < 0.05) differed from its average position under a control condition (no stimulation). These results indicate that cutaneous mechanoreceptive inflow from the neck is integrated to control stance. The findings are relevant for the exploitation of electro-tactile stimulation for rehabilitation interventions where induced anteropulsion of the body is desired.
- Electro-tactile stimulation
- Postural control
- Cutaneous mechanoreceptor afferences integration
- Whole-body postural orientation