Computer simulations of pedaling have shown that a wide range of pedaling tasks can be performed if each limb has the capability of executing six biomechanical functions, which are arranged into three pairs of alternating antagonistic functions. An Ext/Flex pair accelerates the limb into extension or flexion, a Plant/Dorsi pair accelerates the foot into plantarflexion or dorsiflexion, and an Ant/Post pair accelerates the foot anteriorly or posteriorly relative to the pelvis. Because each biomechanical function (i.e., Ext, Flex, Plant, Dorsi, Ant, or Post) contributes to crank propulsion during a specific region in the cycle, phasing of a muscle is hypothesized to be a consequence of its ability to contribute to one or more of the biomechanical functions. Analysis of electromyogram (EMG) patterns has shown that this biomechanical framework assists in the interpretation of muscle activity in healthy and hemiparetic subjects during forward pedaling. Simulations show that backward pedaling can be produced with a phase shift of 180°in the Ant/Post pair. No phase shifts in the Ext/Flex and Plant/Dorsi pairs are then necessary. To further test whether this simple yet biomechanically viable strategy may be used by the nervous system, EMGs from 7 muscles in 16 subjects were measured during backward as well as forward pedaling. As predicted, phasing in vastus medialis (VM), tibialis anterior (TA), medial gastrocnemius (MG), and soleus (SL) were unaffected by pedaling direction, with VM and SL contributing to Ext, MG to Plant, and TA to Dorsi. In contrast, phasing in biceps femoris (BF) and semimembranosus (SM) were affected by pedaling direction, as predicted, compatible with their contribution to the directionally sensitive Post function. Phasing of rectus femoris (RF) was also affected by pedaling direction; however, its ability to contribute to the directionally sensitive Ant function may only be expressed in forward pedaling. RF also contributed significantly to the directionally insensitive Ext function in both forward and backward pedaling. Other muscles also appear to have contributed to more than one function, which was especially evident in backward pedaling (i.e., BF, SM, MG, and TA to Flex). We conclude that the phasing of only the Ant and Post biomechanical functions are directionally sensitive. Further, we suggest that task-dependent modulation of the expression of the functions in the motor output provides this biomechanics-based neural control scheme with the capability to execute a variety of lower limb tasks, including walking.
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