Unsteady locomotion: integrating muscle function with whole body dynamics and neuromuscular control

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By integrating studies of muscle function with analysis of whole body and limb dynamics, broader appreciation of neuromuscular function can be achieved. Ultimately, such studies need to address non-steady locomotor behaviors relevant to animals in their natural environments. When animals move slowly they likely rely on voluntary coordination of movement involving higher brain centers. However, when moving fast, their movements depend more strongly on responses controlled at more local levels. Our focus here is on control of fast-running locomotion. A key observation emerging from studies of steady level locomotion is that simple spring-mass dynamics, which help to economize energy expenditure, also apply to stabilization of unsteady running. Spring-mass dynamics apply to conditions that involve lateral impulsive perturbations, sudden changes in terrain height, and sudden changes in substrate stiffness or damping. Experimental investigation of unsteady locomotion is challenging, however, due to the variability inherent in such behaviors. Another emerging principle is that initial conditions associated with postural changes following a perturbation define different context-dependent stabilization responses. Distinct stabilization modes following a perturbation likely result from proximo-distal differences in limb muscle architecture, function and control strategy. Proximal muscles may be less sensitive to sudden perturbations and appear to operate, in such circumstances, under feed-forward control. In contrast, multiarticular distal muscles operate, via their tendons, to distribute energy among limb joints in a manner that also depends on the initial conditions of limb contact with the ground. Intrinsic properties of these distal muscle-tendon elements, in combination with limb and body dynamics, appear to provide rapid initial stabilizing mechanisms that are often consistent with spring-mass dynamics. These intrinsic mechanisms likely help to simplify the neural control task, in addition to compensating for delays inherent to subsequent force- and length-dependent neural feedback. Future work will benefit from integrative biomechanical approaches that employ a combination of modeling and experimental techniques to understand how the elegant interplay of intrinsic muscle properties, body dynamics and neural control allows animals to achieve stability and agility over a variety of conditions.


Biewener, Andrew ADaley, Monica AengAR047679/AR/NIAMS NIH HHS/R01 AR047679/AR/NIAMS NIH HHS/R01 AR047679-05/AR/NIAMS NIH HHS/Research Support, N.I.H., ExtramuralResearch Support, Non-U.S. Gov'tResearch Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.England2007/08/21 09:00J Exp Biol. 2007 Sep;210(Pt 17):2949-60.