Exploring the relationship between stability and variability of the centre of mass and centre of pressure

Roshanth Rajachandrakumar, Jotvarinder Mann, Alison Schinkel-Ivy, Avril Mansfield
Gait & Posture 2018, 63: 254-259

BACKGROUND: There are competing perspectives in the literature regarding the role of movement variability in quiet standing and balance control. Some view high variability as indicative of poor balance control and a contributor to increased fall risk, whereas others view variability as beneficial in providing sensory information that aids balance control.

RESEARCH QUESTION: This study aimed to help to clarify the role of variability in balance control by testing two competing hypotheses: that increased variability would lead to instability, or that increased variability would improve stability, where stability is defined as the ability to respond to a perturbation.

METHODS: Fourteen healthy young adults (20-35 years old) were recruited. Participants experienced postural perturbations of varying magnitudes, delivered via sudden backward movement of the support surface. Magnitudes of postural perturbation were chosen such that both step and no-step responses could be observed at each magnitude. Variability in the centre of mass and centre of pressure movement was measured for 10 s prior to the postural perturbation. Multiple regression was used to determine if movement variability predicted step responses when controlling for perturbation magnitude, trial order, and margin of stability at perturbation onset.

RESULTS: Lower variability in medio-lateral centre of mass and centre of pressure position, and lower variability in medio-lateral centre of pressure velocity were related to increased odds of stepping in response to the perturbation (p-values ≤0.001).

SIGNIFICANCE: This study provides support for the hypothesis that, at least for relatively low variability values, increased centre of pressure and mass movement variability improves stability. Specifically, increasing movement of the centre of pressure and mass in the medio-lateral direction may help to preserve stability in the antero-posterior direction by providing the central nervous system with information about the antero-posterior centre of mass across a wide range of medio-lateral positions.

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