Paradoxical Muscle Movement during Postural Control
Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise
Undisturbed human standing is primarily characterized by sway of the whole body about the ankle joints and is regulated primarily by the calf muscles. Traditionally, in accord with normal ideas of postural control, ankle stiffness, enhanced by spindle mediated muscle stretch reflexes, has been considered to be important for maintaining the upright human stance. This idea predicts that during forward sway, the calf muscles are stretched and the mechanoreflex response enhances muscle activity to
... muscle activity to maintain posture and balance. Muscle contractile displacement is expected to be positively correlated with bodily sway. However, recent experiments have revealed problems with these ideas. Using a new ultrasound technique for viewing and measuring the dynamic contractile displacements of the calf muscles, it has been shown that calf muscle movement is usually poorly or negatively correlated with bodily sway. The shortening of the contractile tissue during forward sway and vice versa is described as paradoxical muscle movements. This paradoxical muscle movement can be explained by the fact that the Achilles tendon, which transmits the calf muscle force, is compliant in relation the bodily load. There are two main consequences of the compliant Achilles tendon. First, the body is unstable: it cannot be stabilized by intrinsic ankle stiffness alone and thus requires modulation of muscle activity to maintain balance. Second, contractile displacement is mechanically decoupled from bodily sway, which implies that stretch-reflex mechanisms mediated by the calf muscle spindles are unable to successfully modulate muscle activity to maintain balance. This leaves uncertain the postural role of the numerous calf muscle spindles: it is predicted that they signal the effective motor output rather than bodily sway.