Modulation of soleus muscle H-reflexes and ankle muscle co-contraction with surface compliance during unipedal balancing in young and older adults

Leila Alizadehsaravi, Sjoerd M. Bruijn, Huub Maas, Jaap H. van Dieën*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


This study aimed to assess modulation of lower leg muscle reflex excitability and co-contraction during unipedal balancing on compliant surfaces in young and older adults. Twenty healthy adults (ten aged 18–30 years and ten aged 65–80 years) were recruited. Soleus muscle H-reflexes were elicited by electrical stimulation of the tibial nerve, while participants stood unipedally on a robot-controlled balance platform, simulating different levels of surface compliance. In addition, electromyographic data (EMG) of soleus (SOL), tibialis anterior (TA), and peroneus longus (PL) and full-body 3D kinematic data were collected. The mean absolute center of mass velocity was determined as a measure of balance performance. Soleus H-reflex data were analyzed in terms of the amplitude related to the M wave and the background EMG activity 100 ms prior to the stimulation. The relative duration of co-contraction was calculated for soleus and tibialis anterior, as well as for peroneus longus and tibialis anterior. Center of mass velocity was significantly higher in older adults compared to young adults (p< 0.001) and increased with increasing surface compliance in both groups (p< 0.001). The soleus H-reflex gain decreased with surface compliance in young adults (p= 0.003) , while co-contraction increased (pSOL,TA=0.003andpPL,TA<0.001). Older adults did not show such modulations, but showed overall lower H-reflex gains (p< 0.001) and higher co-contraction than young adults (pSOL,TA<0.001andpPL,TA=0.002). These results suggest an overall shift in balance control from the spinal level to supraspinal levels in older adults, which also occurred in young adults when balancing at more compliant surfaces.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1371-1383
Number of pages13
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number6
Early online date7 Apr 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020


  • Balance control
  • Postural control
  • Spinal excitability
  • H-reflex
  • Aging
  • Co-contraction

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