The postural adjustments associated with a voluntary contraction of the postural muscles themselves have been studied in the legs of normal standing men. We focussed on the following questions. Do postural adjustments precede the focal movement as in the case of movements of the upper limb? Which muscle(s) are involved in the task of stabilizing posture? Can the same postural muscle be activated in postural stabilization and in voluntary movement at the same time, in spite of the opposite changes in activity possibly required by these conditions? Six subjects standing on a dynamometric platform were asked to rise onto the tips their toes by contracting their soleus muscles, or to rock on their heels by contracting their tibialis anterior muscles. The tasks were made in a reaction time (RT) situation or in a self-paced mode, standing either freely or holding onto a stable structure. Surface EMGs of leg and thigh muscles, and the foot-floor reaction forces were recorded. The following results were obtained in the RT mode, standing freely. 1. Rising onto toe tips: a striking silent period in soleus preceded its voluntary activation; during this silent period, a tibialis anterior burst could be observed in three subjects; these anticipatory activities induced a forward sway, as monitored by a change in the force exerted along the x axis of the platform. 2. Rocking on heels: an enhancement in tonic EMG of soleus was observed before tibialis anterior voluntary burst, at a mean latency from the go-signal similar to that of the silent period; this anticipatory activity induced a backward body sway. 3. Choice RT conditions showed that the above anticipatory patterns in muscle activity were pre-programmed, specific for the intended tasks, and closely associated with the focal movement. When both tasks were performed in a self-paced mode, all the above EMG and mechanical features were more pronounced and unfolded in time. If the subjects held onto the frame, the early features in the soleus or tibialis anterior EMG were absent, and the corresponding changes in the foot-floor reaction forces were lacking. The anticipatory phenomena observed are considered postural adjustments because they appear only in the free-standing situation, and induce a body sway in the appropriate direction to counteract the destabilizing thrust due to the voluntary contraction of soleus or tibialis anterior. The central organization and descending control of posture and movements are briefly discussed in the light of the short latency of the anticipatory phenomena and of their close association with the focal movement.
- Anticipatory postural adjustments
- Leg muscles
- Reaction times
- Voluntary contraction
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