Dynamic Walking 2010. Greg Sawicki. Mechanics and control of a compliant muscle-tendon during cyclic contractions
Compliant mechanical behavior of the lower-limb can capture the basic dynamics of stable walking and running across a range of speeds, but the neuromechanical mechanisms responsible for robust, spring-like limb dynamics are not entirely clear. In order for a compliant muscle-tendon unit to behave similar to an elastic spring, the mechanics of active (muscle fascicles) and passive (series-elastic tendon and aponeurosis) tissues must be appropriately coordinated (i.e. ‘tuned’) within the movement cycle. This ‘tuning’ involves adjusting the pattern of muscle activation to modulate muscle force/stiffness output (via intrinsic force-length and force velocity properties) in order to match the loading profile imposed by the environment through series elastic structures within the muscle-tendon unit.
Using bullfrog plantaris muscle-tendon, a servo-controlled muscle ergometer and sonomicrometry, we have developed a novel experimental framework to study the neuromechanics of a compliant muscle -tendon unit in vitro. In our initial experiments we employed classical work-loop techniques to understand how the feedforward (i.e. open-loop) muscle activation pattern (timing, magnitude and duration of stimulation) influences muscle-tendon unit net work output and internal energy exchange between muscle fascicles and series-elastic tissues. First I will present results demonstrating conditions that lead to ‘tuned’ elastic behavior of a compliant muscle-tendon unit. Then I will discuss plans to extend our framework and address the relative roles of neural feedback (length and/or force) and muscle-tendon architecture in stabilizing perturbations to steady-state, ‘tuned’ elastic cycles.