Neural Modulation of Leg Stiffness in Response to Neuromuscular Fatigue
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The spring-mass model is able to accurately represent hopping spring-like behavior (leg and joint stiffness), and leg and joint stiffness changes can reveal overall motor control responses to neural and muscular contributors of neuromuscular fatigue. By understanding leg stiffness modulation, we can determine which variables the nervous system targets to maintain motor performance and stability. The purpose of this study was to determine how neuromuscular fatigue affects hopping behavior by examining leg and joint stiffness before and after a single-leg calf raise fatiguing protocol. Post-fatigue, leg stiffness decreased for the exercised leg, but not for the non-exercised leg. Ankle and knee joint stiffness did not significantly change for either leg. This indicates that leg stiffness decreases primarily from muscular fatigue, but was not explained by ankle and knee joint stiffness. The decrease in leg stiffness may be an attempt to soften landing impact, while at the same time maintaining performance.