The influence of artificially increased hip and trunk stiffness on balance control in man

C Grüneberg, B R Bloem, F Honegger, J H J Allum
Experimental Brain Research. Experimentelle Hirnforschung. Expérimentation Cérébrale 2004, 157 (4): 472-85
Lightweight corsets were used to produce mid-body stiffening, rendering the hip and trunk joints practically inflexible. To examine the effect of this artificially increased stiffness on balance control, we perturbed the upright stance of young subjects (20-34 years of age) while they wore one of two types of corset or no corset at all. One type, the "half-corset", only increased hip stiffness, and the other, the "full-corset", increased stiffness of the hips and trunk. The perturbations consisted of combined roll and pitch rotations of the support surface (7.5 deg, 60 deg/s) in one of six different directions. Outcome measures were biomechanical responses of the legs, trunk, arms and head, and electromyographic (EMG) responses from leg, trunk, and upper arm muscles. With the full-corset, a decrease in forward stabilising trunk pitch rotation compared to the no-corset condition occurred for backward pitch tilts of the support surface. In contrast, the half-corset condition yielded increased forward trunk motion. Trunk backward pitch motion after forwards support-surface perturbations was the same for all corset conditions. Ankle torques and lower leg angle changes in the pitch direction were decreased for both corset conditions for forward pitch tilts of the support-surface but unaltered for backward tilts. Changes in trunk roll motion with increased stiffness were profound. After onset of a roll support-surface perturbation, the trunk rolled in the opposite direction to the support-surface tilt for the no-corset and half-corset conditions, but in the same direction as the tilt for the full-corset condition. Initial head roll angular accelerations (at 100 ms) were larger for the full-corset condition but in the same direction (opposite platform tilt) for all conditions. Arm roll movements were initially in the same direction as trunk movements, and were followed by large compensatory arm movements only for the full-corset condition. Leg muscle (soleus, peroneus longus, but not tibialis anterior) balance-correcting responses were reduced for roll and pitch tilts under both corset conditions. Responses in paraspinals were also reduced. These results indicate that young healthy normals cannot rapidly modify movement strategies sufficiently to account for changes in link flexibility following increases in hip and trunk stiffness. The changes in leg and trunk muscle responses failed to achieve a normal roll or pitch trunk end position at 700 ms (except for forward tilt rotations), even though head accelerations and trunk joint proprioception seemed to provide information on changed trunk movement profiles over the first 300 ms following the perturbation. The major adaptation to stiffness involved increased use of arm movements to regain stability. The major differences in trunk motion for the no-corset, half-corset and full-corset conditions support the concept of a multi-link pendulum with different control dynamics in the pitch and roll planes as a model of human stance. Stiffening of the hip and trunk increases the likelihood of a loss of balance laterally and/or backwards. Thus, these results may have implications for the elderly and others, with and without disease states, who stiffen for a variety of reasons.

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