Effects of narrow base gait on mediolateral balance control in young and older adults

Mina Arvin, Masood Mazaheri, Marco J M Hoozemans, Mirjam Pijnappels, Bart J Burger, Sabine M P Verschueren, Jaap H van Dieën
Journal of Biomechanics 2016 May 3, 49 (7): 1264-1267
The aim of this study was to examine the effect of narrowing step width on mediolateral (ML) center of mass (COM) kinematics and margin of stability (MOS) in young and older adults. Fourteen young and 18 healthy older adults were asked to walk on a treadmill at preferred speed, stepping on projected lines at their predetermined preferred step width (PSW) and at a 50% narrowed step width (NSW). Linear trunk accelerations were recorded by an inertial sensor, attached at the level of the lumbar spine and foot placement was determined from force sensors in the treadmill. Mediolateral peak-to-peak COM displacement, COM velocity and MOS within strides were estimated. Mean ML-COM displacement and velocity, which were significantly higher in older compared to young adults, were significantly reduced in the NSW condition while the variability of ML-COM velocity was increased in the NSW condition. A significant interaction effect of step width and age was found for ML-COM velocity, showing larger decreases in older adults in the NSW condition. Walking with NSW reduced the ML-MOS significantly in both groups while it was smaller in the older group. Although reductions of ML-COM displacement and velocity may occur as direct mechanical effects of reduced step width, the larger variability of ML COM velocity in the older adults suggests active control of ML COM movements in response to the reduced base of support. Given the effects on MOS, narrowing step width might challenge ML-balance control and lead to less robust gait especially in older adults.

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