Contribution of sensory feedback to ongoing ankle extensor activity during the stance phase of walking

Can J Physiol Pharmacol. Aug-Sep 2004;82(8-9):589-98. doi: 10.1139/y04-043.


Numerous investigations over the past 15 years have demonstrated that sensory feedback plays a critical role in establishing the timing and magnitude of muscle activity during walking. Here we review recent studies reporting that sensory feedback makes a substantial contribution to the activation of extensor motoneurons during the stance phase. Quantitative analysis of the effects of loading and unloading ankle extensor muscles during walking on a horizontal surface has shown that sensory feedback can increase the activity of ankle extensor muscles by up to 60%. There is currently some uncertainty about which sensory receptors are responsible for this enhancement of extensor activity, but likely candidates are the secondary spindle endings in the ankle extensors of humans and the Golgi tendon organs in the ankle extensors of humans and cats. Two important issues arise from the finding that sensory feedback from the leg regulates the magnitude of extensor activity. The first is the extent to which differences in the magnitude of activity in extensor muscles during different locomotor tasks can be directly attributed to changes in the magnitude of sensory signals, and the second is whether the enhancement of extensor activity is determined primarily by feedback from a specific group of receptors or from numerous groups of receptors distributed throughout the leg. Limitations of current experimental strategies prevent a straightforward empirical resolution of these issues. A potentially fruitful approach in the immediate future is to develop models of the known and hypothesized neuronal networks controlling motoneuronal activity, and use these simulations to control forward dynamic models of the musculo-skeletal system. These simulations would help understand how sensory signals are modified with a change in locomotor task and, in conjunction with physiological experiments, establish the extent to which these modifications can account for changes in the magnitude of motoneuronal activity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ankle / physiology*
  • Feedback / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neurons, Afferent / physiology*
  • Walking / physiology*