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J Biomech. 2001 Apr;34(4):481-90.

Mechanical energy analysis identifies compensatory strategies in disabled elders' gait.

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Department of Orthopaedics, Massachusetts General Hospital, Biomotion Laboratory, and MGH Institute of Health Professions, 40 Parkman St., Boston, MA 02114, USA.


Current concepts in disablement emphasize the importance of identifying mobility impairments in aging humans to enable timely intervention and, ultimately, prevent disability. Because mobility impairments are likely to result in compensatory movement strategies, recognizing and understanding those strategies may be critical in designing effective interventions for preventing disability. We sought to determine if mechanical energy methods are useful for identifying and understanding lower extremity compensatory movement strategies due to disabilities. Aleshinski's method was used to compute mechanical energy expenditure (MEE) and mechanical energy compensation (MEC) for the sagittal plane stance leg and low-back joints of healthy elders (HE) and disabled elders (DE) during preferred speed and paced (120 steps min(-1)) gait. DE subjects expended less ankle energy in late-stance and more low-back energy in mid-stance than did the HE subjects. When controlling for walking speed, the difference in ankle MEE disappeared, but mid-stance hip MEE was significantly higher for the DE subjects. Despite increased hip and low-back MEE, the DE subjects compensated hip and low-back muscles greater then HE subjects by increasing energy transferred into the pelvis, particularly when walking faster than their self-selected speed. Increased energy transfers into the pelvis during mid-stance may be a strategy used to assist in advancing and controlling the contralateral limb's swing phase. Increased trunk energy, however, may compromise dynamic stability and increase the risk of falling. We conclude that mechanical energy methods are useful for identifying and understanding compensatory movement strategies in elders with disabilities.

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