Slip-related muscle activation patterns in the stance leg during walking

Gait Posture. 2007 Apr;25(4):565-72. doi: 10.1016/j.gaitpost.2006.06.007. Epub 2006 Jul 27.


Falls precipitated by slipping are a serious public health concern especially in the elderly. Muscular responses generated during slipping have not been investigated during gait on contaminated floors. This study compared slip-related muscular responses (reactive and proactive) in young and older adults and examined if characteristics of muscular activation patterns during normal gait impact slip severity on contaminated floors. Electromyographic recordings were made from the major shank and thigh muscles in the stance leg of 11 young and nine older adults. Three experimental conditions were included: (1) known dry floors (baseline), (2) unexpected contaminated floor, (3) alert dry (subjects uncertain of the floor's contaminant condition). Muscular responses to unexpected slips, similar in both age groups, included the activation of the Medial Hamstring (approximately 175 ms) followed by the onset of the Vastus Lateralis (approximately 240 ms). The power and duration of responses were scaled to slip severity. The Vastus Lateralis latency was delayed in severe slips. When experiencing a severe slip, young adults demonstrated a longer, more powerful response compared to older adults. Subjects who normally walk with greater ankle muscle co-contraction were predisposed to experience less severe slips when encountering an unexpected slippery floor. Finally, anticipation of a slippery surface resulted in more powerful muscular activity and muscle co-contraction at the ankle and knee compared to baseline gait, as well as earlier onsets and longer durations in the posterior muscles' activation. These findings may provide a greater understanding of the higher incidence of falls in the elderly.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Accidental Falls*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Electromyography
  • Floors and Floorcoverings
  • Humans
  • Leg / physiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Surface Properties
  • Walking / physiology*