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Foot pressure device may stamp out muscle loss

HOUSTON, Oct. 7, 2002 These boots weren't made for walkin', but "space boots" under development at the University of Houston may help astronauts stay healthy and readjust more quickly to walking again on terra firma.

UH researchers have developed technology that could help combat the loss of muscle mass, strength and coordination experienced by astronauts during long-duration stints in microgravity. The system also may have earth-bound applications in rehabilitation therapy for bed-ridden patients.

Charles Layne, associate professor and chair of the UH Department of Health and Human Performance, and his colleagues developed a mechanical system that stimulates muscle activity in the legs by attempting to mimic the natural sensory input feet receive while walking, running or jumping.

"We're not using electricity to directly stimulate the leg muscles, but rather a series of plungers that push against the bottom of the foot in specific patterns, which mimics the pressure one feels while walking around in normal gravity," Layne says.

The researchers will publish a study in an upcoming issue of the journal Neuroscience Letters that describes how mechanical foot stimulation generates enhanced neuromuscular activity in the legs. Layne and his graduate student, Katherine Forth, will give presentations about their work during the World Space Congress 2002 in Houston Oct. 10-19.

In normal gravity, when you move your arms while standing or walking, muscles in your legs and trunk contract in certain ways to regulate your center of gravity and keep you from falling down.

But in space-based experiments, Layne and other researchers have previously found that when you're floating free in space and move your arms around, postural activity in the legs and back is reduced. "This is the same situation that occurs when you lie on your back on the ground. In a stable posture, there's no opportunity to fall over when you raise your arms, so the muscle a
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Contact: Amanda Siegfried
asiegfried@uh.edu
713-743-8192
University of Houston
7-Oct-2002


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