Long-lasting changes in muscle activation and step cycle variables induced by repetitive sensory stimulation to discrete areas of the foot sole during walking.


Nakajima T(1), Suzuki S(1)(2), Zehr EP(3)(4), Komiyama T(5)(6).
Author information:
(1)Department of Integrative Physiology, Kyorin University School of Medicine, Mitaka, Japan.
(2)Department of Physical Therapy, School of Rehabilitation Sciences, Health Sciences University of Hokkaido, Ishikari, Japan.
(3)Rehabilitation Neuroscience Laboratory, School of Exercise Science, University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
(4)Centre for Biomedical Research, University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
(5)Division of Health and Sports Education, The United Graduate School of Education, Tokyo Gakugei University, Koganei, Japan.
(6)Division of Health and Sports Scieces, Faculty of Education, Chiba University, Chiba, Japan.


We examined whether repetitive electrical stimulation to discrete foot sole regions that are phase-locked to the step cycle modulates activity patterns of ankle muscles and induces neuronal adaptation during human walking. Nonnoxious repetitive foot sole stimulation (STIM; 67 pulses at 333 Hz) was given to the medial forefoot (f-M) or heel (HL) regions at 1) the stance-to-swing transition, 2) swing-to-stance transition, or 3) midstance, during every step cycle for 10 min. Stance, but not swing, durations were prolonged with f-M STIM delivered at stance-to-swing transition, and these changes remained for up to 20-30 min after the intervention. Electromyographic (EMG) burst durations and amplitudes in the ankle extensors were also prolonged and persisted for 20 min after the intervention. Interestingly, STIM to HL was ineffective at inducing modulation, suggesting stimulation location-specific adaptation. In contrast, STIM to HL (but not f-M), at the swing-to-stance phase transition, shortened the step cycle by premature termination of swing. Furthermore, the onset of EMG bursts in the ankle extensors appeared earlier than in the control condition. STIM delivered during the midstance phase was ineffective at modulating the step cycle, highlighting phase-dependent adaptation. These effects were absent when STIM was applied while mimicking static postures for each walking phase during standing. Our findings suggest that the combination of walking-related neuronal activity with repetitive sensory inputs from the foot can generate short-term adaptation that is phase-dependent and localized to the site of STIM.NEW & NOTEWORTHY Repetitive (∼10 min) long (200 ms) trains of sensory stimulation to discrete areas of the foot sole produce persistent changes in muscle activity and cycle timing during walking. Interactions between the delivery phase and stimulus location determine the expression of the adaptations. These observations bear striking similarities to those in decerebrate cat experiments and may be usefully translated to improving locomotor function after neurotrauma.