Neck muscle fatigue and spatial orientation during stepping in place in humans

Micaela Schmid, Marco Schieppati

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Neck proprioceptive input, as elicited by muscle vibration, can produce destabilizing effects on stance and locomotion. Neck muscle fatigue produces destabilizing effects on stance, too. Our aim was to assess whether neck muscle fatigue can also perturb the orientation in space during a walking task. Direction and amplitude of the path covered during stepping in place were measured in 10 blindfolded subjects, who performed five 30-s stepping trials before and after a 5-min period of isometric dorsal neck muscle contraction against a load. Neck muscle electromyogram amplitude and median frequency during the head extensor effort were used to compute a fatigue index. Head and body kinematics were recorded by an optoelectronic system, and stepping cadence was measured by sensorized insoles. Before the contraction period, subjects normally stepped on the spot or drifted forward. After contraction, some subjects reproduced the same behavior, whereas others reduced their forward progression or even stepped backward. The former subjects showed minimal signs of fatigue and the latter ones marked signs of fatigue, as quantified by the dorsal neck electromyogram index. Head position and cadence were unaffected in either group of subjects. We argue that the abnormal fatigue-induced afferent input originating in the receptors transducing the neck muscle metabolic state can modulate the egocentric spatial reference frame. Notably, the effects of neck muscle fatigue on orientation are opposite to those produced by neck proprioception. The neck represents a complex source of inputs capable of modifying our orientation in space during a locomotor task.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)141-153
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Applied Physiology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2005


  • Locomotion
  • Reference frame

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology
  • Physiology
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


Dive into the research topics of 'Neck muscle fatigue and spatial orientation during stepping in place in humans'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this