The signals that the central nervous system (CNS) produces and sends to the muscles to effect movement are not entirely understood. Muscle synergy theory suggests that the central nervous system produces a small number of signals that pass through a network that distributes combinations of these signals to the muscles. Though these synergies are rather stable over time, some variability is present.
Here, we investigated the variability of muscle synergy and defined a synergy stability index (SSI) to quantify it. We measured the activity of muscles responsible for maintaining lateral balance in humans standing on a platform that was subjected to lateral disturbance from the platform. We then calculated muscle synergies attributed to postural reflex and automatic response by using non-negative matrix factorization (NMF). Finally, from the calculated muscle synergies, we obtained SSI.
We observed a positive proportional relation between balance performance and SSI. Participants who were adept at maintaining balance were found to have invariant muscle synergies, and non-adept participants showed variable muscle synergies.
These results suggest that SSI can be used to quantitatively evaluate balance maintenance ability.