Kinematic patterns during locomotion: Examining coordination and control strategies in humans

Author: Ahmed Abu Sultan
Major: Physics
Approved: Fall 2020
Status: In progress

The question and problem: How the human central nervous system coordinates its many musculo-articular links to execute skilled movement patterns remains, in effect, a mystery.   In most cases the human body has any number of ways it can solve a movement problem (called redundancy).  The question is: how, and why, does it “decide” to move in the way it does; what guiding principles form the foundation of movement control and pattern selection?  This problem (often called the degrees of freedom problem or D.O.F.) becomes even more interesting, and challenging, when humans use objects, like coffee mugs, tennis rackets, pencils and so forth.

The movement model and research plan: Rhythmic behaviors are common in living systems, a fact therefore compelling their careful study as a source of insight into foundational concepts.  Rhythmic behavior is a primary expression of how the nervous system organizes movements in space and time, how it achieves highly precise and reproducible patterns, and how it resolves issues of efficiency of motion.  In short, rhythmic movements seem to obey simple, elegant rules and may serve as a window into understanding how humans select patterns to solve movement problems.  In this project, trekking poles and footfall kinematic patterns will be examined as a rhythmic, locomotor, degrees of freedom problem for the human central nervous system to solve.  It is anticipated that trekking pole and footfall landing patterns will exhibit well-defined configurations in space (where) and time (when).  Once this relationship is mathematically defined and experimentally clear, task parameters (like treadmill speed and grade) will be manipulated to determine the reliability and stability of this coordination pattern between poles and feet, as a human essentially goes from bipedal locomotion to quadrupedal.