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Open Access Highly Accessed Research

Effects of muscle fatigue on gait characteristics under single and dual-task conditions in young and older adults

Urs Granacher12*, Irene Wolf3, Anja Wehrle3, Stephanie Bridenbaugh3* and Reto W Kressig3

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Exercise and Health Sciences, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland

2 Institute of Sport Science, Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena, Jena, Germany

3 Basel University Hospital, Division of Acute Geriatrics, Basel, Switzerland

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Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation 2010, 7:56  doi:10.1186/1743-0003-7-56

Published: 9 November 2010

Abstract

Background

Muscle fatigue and dual-task walking (e.g., concurrent performance of a cognitive interference (CI) while walking) represent major fall risk factors in young and older adults. Thus, the objectives of this study were to examine the effects of muscle fatigue on gait characteristics under single and dual-task conditions in young and older adults and to determine the impact of muscle fatigue on dual-task costs while walking.

Methods

Thirty-two young (24.3 ± 1.4 yrs, n = 16) and old (71.9 ± 5.5 yrs, n = 16) healthy active adults participated in this study. Fatigue of the knee extensors/flexors was induced by isokinetic contractions. Subjects were tested pre and post fatigue, as well as after a 5 min rest. Tests included the assessment of gait velocity, stride length, and stride length variability during single (walking), and dual (CI+walking) task walking on an instrumented walkway. Dual-task costs while walking were additionally computed.

Results

Fatigue resulted in significant decreases in single-task gait velocity and stride length in young adults, and in significant increases in dual-task gait velocity and stride length in older adults. Further, muscle fatigue did not affect dual-task costs during walking in young and older adults. Performance in the CI-task was improved in both age groups post-fatigue.

Conclusions

Strategic and/or physiologic rationale may account for the observed differences in young and older adults. In terms of strategic rationale, older adults may walk faster with longer strides in order to overcome the feeling of fatigue-induced physical discomfort as quickly as possible. Alternatively, older adults may have learned how to compensate for age-related and/or fatigue-induced muscle deficits during walking by increasing muscle power of synergistic muscle groups (e.g., hip flexors). Further, a practice and/or learning effect may have occurred from pre to post testing. Physiologic rationale may comprise motor unit remodeling in old age resulting in larger proportions of type I fibres and thus higher fatigue-resistance and/or increased muscle spindle sensitivity following fatigue leading to improved forward propulsion of the body. These findings are preliminary and have to be confirmed by future studies.