The neuromuscular control of human movement can be described by a set of muscle synergies factorized from myoelectric signals. There is some evidence that the selection, activation and flexible combination of these basic activation patterns are of a neural origin. We investigated the muscle synergies during incline and level walking to evaluate changes in the modular organization of neuromuscular control related to changes in the mechanical demands.
Our results revealed five fundamental (not further factorizable) synergies for both walking conditions but with different frequencies of appearance of the respective synergies during incline compared to level walking. Low similarities across conditions were observed in the timing of the activation patterns (motor primitives) and the weightings of the muscles within the respective elements (motor modules) for the synergies associated with the touchdown, mid-stance and early push-off phase. The changes in the neuromuscular control could be attributed to changes in the mechanical demands in support, propulsion and medio-lateral stabilization of the body during incline compared to level walking.
Our findings provide further evidence that the central nervous system flexibly uses a consistent set of neural control elements with a flexible temporal recruitment and modifications of the relative muscle weightings within each element to provide stable locomotion under varying mechanical demands during walking.
- Received September 6, 2016.
- Accepted December 9, 2016.
- © 2016. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd