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Browne MG and Franz JR. More push from your push-off: joint-level modifications to modulate propulsive forces in old age. Plos One (In press).


Introduction: Compared to young adults, older adults walk with smaller propulsive forces and a redistribution to more proximal leg muscles for power generation during push-off. Despite this deficit in propulsive function, older adults can increase push-off intensity when encouraged to via real-time biofeedback. However, the specific joint-level modifications used by older adults to enhance propulsive force generation has yet to be elucidated. The purpose of this study was to identify the joint-level modifications used by young and older adults to modulate propulsive forces when walking at their preferred speed.

Methods: 9 young and 16 older adults walked at their preferred speed while visual biofeedback prompted them to modulate their propulsive forces using targets prescribed at ±10% and ±20% of their preferred value. Older adults were then divided into groups exhibiting relatively larger or smaller baseline redistribution to more proximal leg muscles for power generation.

Results: Neither young nor either older adult cohort modulated propulsive forces by altering their peak ankle power generation. Instead, subjects increased trailing limb extension and attenuated mechanical power demands at the hip during push-off. Older adults that had a larger baseline redistribution exhibited larger responses to enhanced push-off intensity than their peers – for example, walking with 11% less hip flexor power and 10% more trailing limb extension during push-off when exerting larger than preferred propulsive forces.

Conclusion: Propulsive force biofeedback that elicits larger than preferred propulsive forces also increases trailing limb extension and attenuates mechanical power demands at the hip in older adults most exhibiting a distal-to-proximal redistribution. Our results suggest that considering baseline redistribution may be important in the personalized prescription of interventions aimed at enhancing walking performance by improving push-off intensity.

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