Voluntarily changing step length or step width affects dynamic stability of human walking

Patricia M McAndrew Young, Jonathan B Dingwell
Gait & Posture 2012, 35 (3): 472-7
Changes in step width (SW), step length (SL), and/or the variability of these parameters have been prospectively related to risk of falling. However, it is unknown how voluntary changes in SW and SL directly alter variability and/or dynamic stability of walking. Here, we quantified how variability and dynamic stability of human walking changed when individuals voluntarily manipulated SW and SL. 14 unimpaired, young adults walked on a treadmill at their preferred walking speed with normal gait, with a metronome and with narrower, wider, shorter and longer steps than normal. Taking narrower steps caused increased SL variability while mediolateral (ML) movements of the C7 vertebra (i.e., trunk) became locally more stable (p<0.05) and anterior-posterior (AP) C7 movements became locally less stable (p<0.05). Taking wider steps caused increased SW and SL variability, while ML C7 movements became both locally and orbitally less stable (p<0.05). Any change in SL caused increased SW, SL, and stride time variability. When taking shorter steps, ML C7 movements exhibited greater short-term local and orbital instability, while AP C7 movements exhibited decreased short-term and long-term local instability (p<0.05). When taking longer steps, AP, ML, and vertical C7 movements all exhibited increased long-term local instability and increased orbital instability (p<0.05). Correlations between mean SW, SL and dynamic stability of C7 marker motions were weak. However, short-term voluntary changes in SW and SL did significantly alter local and orbital stability of trunk motions.

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