The integration of vestibular and somatosensory information for the control of lower limb musculature remains elusive. To determine whether a subthreshold vestibular input influences the cutaneous evoked response, the isometric EMG activity in the posturally inactive soleus muscles of 13 healthy, seated subjects was collected. Vestibular afferents were activated using galvanic vestibular stimulation (GVS; 1.8–2.5mA, 500ms), while percutaneous electrical stimulation was delivered to the distal tibial nerve (11ms train of 3 × 1.0 ms pulses, 200Hz) to activate foot sole skin afferents. GVS elicited responses in soleus both independently and when combined with cutaneous stimulation. The responses to the combined sensory input showed an interaction between the two sensory modalities to influence muscle activation. Of note is the presence of significant muscle modulation in the combined condition, where subthreshold vestibular inputs altered the outcome of the cutaneous reflex response. This finding has implications for individuals with sensory deficiency. In the case of an absent or deficient sensory modality, balance protective reflexes to maintain postural equilibrium may be enhanced with targeted sensory augmentation.
The authors are with the Department of Human Health and Nutritional Science, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.