Do gait and muscle activation patterns change at middle-age during split-belt adaptation?

Danique Vervoort*, Rob den Otter, T J W Buurke, Nicolas Vuillerme, Tibor Hortobagyi, Claudine Lamoth

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Advancing age affects gait adaptability, but it is unclear if such adaptations to split-belt perturbations are already affected at middle-age. Changes in neuromuscular control, that already start at middle-age, may underlie the age-related changes in gait adaptation. Thus, we examined the effects of age on adaptations in gait and muscle activation patterns during split-belt walking in healthy young and middle-aged adults. Young (23.3±3.13 years) and middle-aged adults (55.3±2.91 years) walked on an instrumented split-belt treadmill. Both age groups adapted similarly by reducing asymmetry in step length and double support time. Surface EMG was recorded from eight leg muscles bilaterally. Principal Component Analysis (PCA) was applied to the EMG data of all subjects, for the fast and slow leg separately, to identify muscle activation patterns. The principal components consisted of i.e. temporal projections that were analyzed with Statistical Parametric Mapping (SPM). The functional muscle groups, identified by PCA, increased activation during early adaptation and post-adaptation, and decreased activation over time similarly in both age groups. Extra activation peaks of the plantar- and dorsiflexors suggest a role in gait modulation during split-belt walking. Both young and middle-aged adults re-established gait symmetry and showed adaptation effects in the muscle activation patterns. Since the adaptation of muscle activation patterns parallels adaptation of gait symmetry, changes in muscle activation likely underlie the changes in step parameters during split-belt adaptation. In conclusion, split-belt adaptation, in terms of gait and muscle activation patterns, is still preserved at middle-age, suggesting that age-related differences occur later in the lifespan.
Original languageEnglish
Article number109510
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of biomechanics
Early online date14-Nov-2019
Publication statusPublished - 23-Jan-2020


  • Split-belt walking
  • Gait adaptation
  • Muscle activation patterns
  • Middle-aged adults
  • Statistical Parametric Mapping

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