Bifurcation and stability analysis in musculoskeletal systems: a study in human stance

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Reflexes are important in the control of such daily activities as standing and walking. The goal of this study is to establish how reflexive feedback of muscle length, velocity, and force can lead to stable equilibria (i.e., posture) and limit cycles (e.g., ankle clonus and gait). The influence of stretch reflexes on the behavior and stability of musculoskeletal systems was examined using a model of human stance. We computed branches of fold and Hopf bifurcations by numerical bifurcation analysis of the model. These fold and Hopf branches divide the parameter space, constructed by the reflexive feedback gains, into regions of different behavior: unstable posture, stable posture, and stable limit cycles. These limit cycles correspond to a neural deficiency, termed ankle clonus. We also linked bifurcation analysis to known biomechanical concepts by linearizing the model: the fold branch corresponds to zero ankle stiffness and defines the minimal muscle length feedback necessary for stable posture; the Hopf branch is related to unstable reflex loops. Crossing the Hopf branch can lead to the above-mentioned stable limit cycles. The Hopf branch reduces with increasing time delays, making the subject's posture more susceptible to unstable reflex loops. This might be one of the reasons why elderly people, or those with injuries to the central nervous system, often have trouble with standing and other posture tasks. The influence of cocontraction and force feedback on the behavior of the posture model was also investigated. An increase in cocontraction leads to an increase in ankle stiffness (i.e., intrinsic muscle stiffness) and a decrease in the effective reflex loop gain. On the one hand, positive force feedback increases the ankle stiffness (i.e., intrinsic and reflexive muscle stiffness); on the other hand it makes the posture more susceptible to unstable reflex loops. For negative force feedback, the opposite is true. Finally, we calculated areas of reflex gains for perturbed stance and quiet stance in healthy subjects by fitting the model to data from the literature. The overlap of these areas of reflex gains could indicate that stretch reflexes are the major control mechanisms in both quiet and perturbed stance. In conclusion, this study has successfully combined bifurcation analysis with the more common biomechanical concepts and tools to determine the influence of reflexes on the stability and quality of stance. In the future, we will develop this line of research to look at rhythmic tasks, such as walking.

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