Increased muscular challenge in older adults during obstructed gait

Michael E. Hahn, Heng Ju Lee, Li Shan Chou*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Citations (Scopus)


Skeletal muscle strength is known to decline with age. Although lower extremity (LE) muscle strength is critical to maintaining dynamic stability, few studies have investigated lower extremity muscle challenge during activities of daily living. The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of age and obstructed gait on relative lower extremity muscular challenge, with respect to available joint strength. Fifteen healthy young and fifteen healthy older adults were asked to walk over level ground and step over obstacles. Pre-amplified surface electrodes were used to measure bilateral muscular activation of the gluteus medius (GM), vastus lateralis (VL), and gastrocnemius (GA). Muscle activation signals were normalized to peak magnitudes collected during maximal manual muscle testing (MMT). Normalized magnitudes were analyzed during the double-support phase for gluteus medius and vastus lateralis and during the single-support phase for gastrocnemius. A two-factor ANOVA was used to test for age group effect, with repeated measure of obstacle height. In general, older adults demonstrated greater relative activation levels compared to young adults. Gluteus medius activity was significantly greater in the elderly as compared to young during periods of double-support (weight transfer). Increased obstacle height resulted in greater relative activation in all muscles, confirming the increased challenge to the musculo-skeletal system. While healthy elderly adults were able to successfully negotiate obstacles of different heights during walking, their muscular strength capacity was significantly lower than young adults, resulting in relatively higher muscular demands. The resulting potential for muscular fatigue during locomotion may place individuals at higher risk for trips and/or falls.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)356-361
Number of pages6
JournalGait and Posture
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2005 Dec
Externally publishedYes


  • Balance control
  • EMG
  • Elderly
  • Joint strength
  • Obstacle crossing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Rehabilitation


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