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. © 2013 Springer Science+Business Media New York.
- Antagonist Muscles
- Cerebellar Ataxia