Variability of neural activation during walking in humans: short heels and big calves

A. N. Ahn, J. K. Kang, M. A. Quitt, B. C. Davidson, C. T. Nguyen

Abstract

People come in different shapes and sizes. In particular, calf muscle size in humans varies considerably. One possible cause for the different shapes of calf muscles is the inherent difference in neural signals sent to these muscles during walking. In sedentary adults, the variability in neural control of the calf muscles was examined with muscle size, walking kinematics and limb morphometrics. Half the subjects walked while activating their medial gastrocnemius (MG) muscles more strongly than their lateral gastrocnemius (LG) muscles during most walking speeds (‘MG-biased’). The other subjects walked while activating their MG and LG muscles nearly equally (‘unbiased’). Those who walked with an MG-biased recruitment pattern also had thicker MG muscles and shorter heel lengths, or MG muscle moment arms, than unbiased walkers, but were similar in height, weight, lower limb length, foot length, and exhibited similar walking kinematics. The relatively less plastic skeletal system may drive calf muscle size and motor recruitment patterns of walking in humans.

  • Received December 8, 2010.
  • Accepted January 14, 2011.
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