Lower limb antagonist muscle co-activation and its relationship with gait parameters in cerebellar ataxia

Silvia Mari, Mariano Serrao, Carlo Casali, Carmela Conte, Giovanni Martino, Alberto Ranavolo, Gianluca Coppola, Francesco Draicchio, Luca Padua, Giorgio Sandrini, Francesco Pierelli
Cerebellum 2014, 13 (2): 226-36
Increased antagonist muscle co-activation, seen in motor-impaired individuals, is an attempt by the neuromuscular system to provide mechanical stability by stiffening joints. The aim of this study was to investigate the co-activation pattern of the antagonist muscles of the ankle and knee joints during walking in patients with cerebellar ataxia, a neurological disease that strongly affects stability. Kinematic and electromyographic parameters of gait were recorded in 17 patients and 17 controls. Ankle and knee antagonist muscle co-activation indexes were measured throughout the gait cycle and during the sub-phases of gait. The indexes of ataxic patients were compared with those of controls and correlated with clinical and gait variables. Patients showed increased co-activity indexes of both ankle and knee muscles during the gait cycle as well as during the gait sub-phases. Both knee and ankle muscle co-activation indexes were positively correlated with disease severity, while ankle muscle co-activation was also positively correlated with stance and swing duration variability. Significant negative correlations were observed between the number of self-reported falls per year and knee muscle co-activation. The increased co-activation observed in these cerebellar ataxia patients may represent a compensatory strategy serving to reduce gait instability. Indeed, this mechanism allows patients to reduce the occurrence of falls. The need for this strategy, which results in excessive muscle co-contraction, increased metabolic costs and cartilage degeneration processes, could conceivably be overcome through the use of supportive braces specially designed to provide greater joint stability.

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