Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MSc)




Faculty of Science

First Advisor

Stephen Perry

Advisor Role



Previous research has demonstrated that there is a distinct relationship between aging and instability. The somatosensory system plays a significant role in balance control in conjunction with vision and the vestibular system (Qiu et al., 2012). Evidence has shown that manipulation of the mechanoreceptors on the plantar surface of the foot has a direct effect on balance control. By manipulating these receptors with hypothermic anesthesia and vibration, researchers are capable of simulating the effect of sensory modification on healthy individuals, in order to understand the role that plantar-surface sensation has in adapting to perturbation during gait (Perry et al., 2001; Priplata et al., 2006).

This study included 14 healthy young adults (mean age 23.07 (±2.43)). Within this study, participants were asked to walk the length of an 8-meter platform at a comfortable speed. Participants were required to walk with reduced, enhanced and normal levels of somatosensory information of the plantar foot surface. During walking trials the participants travelled along a raised platform that had 4 sections in which removable foam squares were placed to provide either a stable or unstable situation when stepped upon. Located underneath three of these squares were three force plates (OR-6-2000 (AMTI, Waterdown, MA)). In order to prevent learning bias the location of the foam, as well as the direction of the perturbation was randomized. Participants were perturbed in either the anterior or lateral direction based upon the direction in which the removable foam squares within the platform were placed. Moreover, participants experienced three separate conditions (control, vibration, and cooled) on the plantar surface of the foot to manipulate the sensory information received. Electromyography (AMT-8 (Bortec, Calgary, Alberta)) was used to analyze magnitude and onset changes in muscle activity within the Gastrocnemius and Tibialis Anterior of the right lower limb, and the Rectus Femoris, and Biceps Femoris muscles of the left lower limb. Three-dimensional motion analysis was also used to capture observable changes in gait (Optotrak, NDI, Waterloo, Ontario).

A main effect of condition was found for the third burst of muscle activity recorded within the Tibialis Anterior (F(2,17)=2.75, p<0.01), with post-hoc analysis between the cooled and vibration conditions. A significant positive correlation was found between Rectus Femoris EMG amplitude and rate of loading (r=0.94,p=0.05). Within the anterior perturbations, a main effect for condition was observed for maximum COM velocity ((F(2,35)=3.71, p=0.05), minimum COP velocity (F(2,35)=4.62, p=0.03), and for the maximum distance between COM and COP (F(2,35)=4.37, p=0.04). A trend was also observed for the maximum distance the COM travelled within the lateral direction in the BOS (F(9,35)=2.61, p=0.06). Within the lateral perturbations, a trending effect for condition was also observed for maximum COM velocity (F(2,55)=3.07, p=0.06), the maximum distance between the COM and COP (F(2,55)=2.98, p=0.06), and a main effect was observed for condition for the rate of loading (F(2,55)=3.86, p=0.03).

This study provides evidence of a relationship between the plantar cutaneous mechanoreceptors and gait parameters regarding to balance control as observed by the significant effects on commonly used measurements of balance control (i.e. COP and COM velocity). A relationship between mechanoreceptors and EMG amplitude, as well as foot contact forces and EMG amplitude is also evident. These relationships may be used to further knowledge for balance control during adaptive gait, as well as provide further development of footwear and insoles to improve balance control.

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