Trunk sway measures of postural stability during clinical balance tests: effects of a unilateral vestibular deficit

J H Allum, A L Adkin, M G Carpenter, M Held-Ziolkowska, F Honegger, K Pierchala
Gait & Posture 2001, 14 (3): 227-37
This research evaluated whether quantified measures of trunk sway during clinical balance tasks are sensitive enough to identify a balance disorder and possibly specific enough to distinguish between different types of balance disorder. We used a light-weight, easy to attach, body-worn apparatus to measure trunk angular velocities in the roll and pitch planes during a number of stance and gait tasks similar to those of the Tinetti and CTSIB protocols. The tasks included standing on one or two legs both eyes-open and closed on a foam or firm support-surface, walking eight tandem steps, walking five steps while horizontally rotating or pitching the head, walking over low barriers, and up and down stairs. Tasks were sought, which when quantified might provide optimal screening for a balance pathology by comparing the test results of 15 patients with a well defined acute balance deficit (sudden unilateral vestibular loss (UVL)) with those of 26 patients with less severe chronic balance problems caused by a cerebellar-pontine-angle-tumour (CPAT) prior to surgery, and with those of 88 age- and sex-matched healthy subjects. The UVL patients demonstrated significantly greater than normal trunk sway for all two-legged stance tasks especially those performed with eyes closed on a foam support surface. Sway was also greater for walking while rotating or pitching the head, and for walking eight tandem steps on a foam support surface. Interestingly, the patients could perform gait tasks such as walking over barriers almost normally, however took longer. CPAT patients had trunk sway values intermediate between those of UVL patients and normals. A combination of trunk sway amplitude measurements (roll angle and pitch velocity) from the stance tasks of standing on two legs eyes closed on a foam support, standing eyes open on a normal support surface, as well as from the gait tasks of walking five steps while rotating, or pitching the head, and walking eight tandem steps on foam permitted a 97% correct recognition of a normal subject and a 93% correct recognition of an acute vestibular loss patient. Just over 50% of CPAT patients could be classified into a group with intermediate balance deficits, the rest were classified as normal. Our results indicate that measuring trunk sway in the form of roll angle and pitch angular velocity during five simple clinical tests of equilibrium, four of which probe both stance and gait control under more difficult sensory conditions, can reliably and quantitatively distinguish patients with a well defined balance deficit from healthy controls. Further, refinement of these trunk sway measuring techniques may be required if functions such as preliminary diagnosis rather than screening are to be attempted.

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