Muscular co-activation is a well-known mechanism for lower limb joint stabilization in both healthy and pathological individuals. This muscular feature appears particularly important for the knee joint, not only during challenging motor tasks such as cutting and landing but also during walking, due to knee cyclic loading. Gastrocnemius acts on the knee joint with a flexor activity and co-activations with quadriceps muscles lead to greater knee ligament strain with respect to an isolated burst of either muscle. Thus, this study aimed to assess possible co-activations between gastrocnemius and quadriceps muscles during walking. Five co-activation periods were assessed: during early stance (identified in 5.7 ± 5.1% of total strides), early and late foot-contact (88.9 ± 8.9% and 8.9 ± 8.2%), push-off (23.9 ± 12.2%) and late swing (29.0 ± 16.1%). Outcomes showed that late foot-contact and swing co-activations could deserve particular attention: in both cases the knee joint was close to the full extension (around 3.5° and 6° respectively) and thus, considering also the anterior tibia translation due to the quadriceps activity, the simultaneous gastrocnemius burst could lead to an enhanced knee ligaments elongation. Findings of this study represent the first attempt to provide a reference knee joint co-activation framework, useful also for further evaluation in cohorts with knee failures.
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