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This study investigated the effects of aging and localized muscle fatigue on the neural control of upright stance during small postural perturbations. Sixteen young (aged 18-24 years) and 16 older (aged 55-74 years) participants were exposed to small magnitude, anteriorly-directed postural perturbations before and after fatiguing exercises (lumbar extensors and ankle plantar flexors). A single degree of freedom model of the human body was used to simulate recovery kinematics following the perturbations. Central to the model was a simulated neural controller that multiplied time-delayed kinematics by invariant feedback gains. Feedback gains and time delay were optimized for each participant based on measured kinematics, and a novel delay margin analysis was performed to assess system robustness. A 10.9% longer effective time delay (p = 0.010) was found among the older group, who also showed a greater reliance upon velocity feedback information (31.1% higher differential gain, p = 0.001) to control upright stance. Based on delay margins, older participants adopted a more robust control scheme to accommodate the small perturbations, potentially compensating for longer time delays or degraded sensory feedback. No fatigue-induced changes in neural controller gains, time delay, or delay margin were found in either age group, indicating that integration of this feedback information was not altered by muscle fatigue. The sensitivity of this approach to changes with fatigue may have been limited by model simplifications.
Date of Publication: June 2011