Movements by a standing person are commonly associated with adjustments in the activity of postural muscles to cause a desired shift of the center of pressure (COP) and keep balance. We hypothesize that such COP shifts are controlled (stabilized) using a small set of central variables (muscle modes, M-modes), while each M-mode induces changes in the activity of a subgroup of postural muscles. The main purpose of this study has been to explore the possibility of identification of muscle synergies in a postural task using the framework of the uncontrolled manifold (UCM) hypothesis employing the following three steps in data analysis: (i) Identification of M-modes: Subjects were asked to release a load from extended arms through a pulley system, resulting in a COP shift forward prior to load release. Electromyographic (EMG) activity of eleven postural muscles on one side of the body was integrated over a 100 ms interval corresponding to the early stage of the COP shift, and subjected to a principal component (PC) analysis across multiple repetitions of each task. Three PCs were identified and associated with a 'push-back M-mode', a 'push-forward M-mode' and a 'mixed M-mode'. (ii) Calculation of the Jacobian of the system, which relates changes in the magnitude of M-modes to COP shifts using regression techniques: Subjects performed three different tasks (releasing different loads at the back, voluntarily shifting body weight forward and backward, at different speeds) to verify if the relationship between magnitudes of M-modes and COP shifts is task or direction specific. (iii) UCM analysis: Three tasks were chosen (load release in the front, arm movement forward and backward) which were associated with an early shift in COP. A manifold was identified in the M-mode space corresponding to a certain average (across trials) shift of the COP and variance per degree of freedom within the UCM (VUCM) and orthogonal (VORT) to the UCM was computed. Across subjects, VUCM was significantly higher than VORT when analysis at the third step was performed using a Jacobian computed based on a set of tasks associated with a COP shift in the same direction but not in the opposite direction. This result confirms our hypothesis that the M-modes work together as a synergy to stabilize a desired shift of the COP. Forward and backward COP shifts are associated with different synergies based on the same three M-modes.
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