THE EFFECT OF HEALTHY AGING ON TRUNK NEUROMUSCULAR ACTIVATION PATTERNS DURING A CONTROLLED FUNCTIONAL TRANSFER TASK
Quirk, David Adam
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Healthy aging is associated with an increased incidence of injuries such as low back pain and falling. Age-related changes in trunk neuromuscular activation patterns could potentially explain uncontrolled trunk motion, a risk factor for these injuries. The purpose of this study was two-fold: i) to establish if trunk neuromuscular activation patterns differ between older and younger adults, and ii) to identify if increased cognitive load can alter the activation patterns used by older adults. Participants performed a controlled dynamic transfer task known to challenge trunk musculature by continuously changing the external moment experienced by the spine. In this thesis, the transfer task was altered by increasing the external moment and cognitive load to address purpose i) and ii) respectively. Three dimensional trunk and pelvis motion and surface electromyograms for 24 trunk muscle sites were collected in two experiments. In the first experiment 26 younger adults, and 17 older adults, performed the transfer task at two physical task intensities. In a second experiment, eight of these older adults performed the dynamic transfer task while performing a simultaneous cognitive dual-task. An analysis of amplitude and temporal characteristics of EMG waveforms, using principal component analysis, showed that older adults had altered trunk neuromuscular activation patterns compared to younger adults. In particular, after accounting for physical task intensity, older adults have increased antagonist co-activation, less temporal variation to changing external moments, and changes in the synergistic relationships between trunk muscle sites. Increasing the cognitive load had no influence on the trunk neuromuscular activation patterns used by healthy active older adults. However, as cognitive performance was not measured in the dual-task it cannot be excluded that i) the cognitive task did not represent enough challenge to result in competition of cortical resources, or ii) the cognitive resources necessary for the successful completion of the transfer task were prioritized in older adults.