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J Biomech. 2013 Mar 15;46(5):905-11. doi: 10.1016/j.jbiomech.2012.12.017. Epub 2013 Jan 18.

Stepping strategies for regulating gait adaptability and stability.

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Research Institute MOVE, Faculty of Human Movement Sciences, VU University, Van der Boechorststraat 9, 1081 BT Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


Besides a stable gait pattern, gait in daily life requires the capability to adapt this pattern in response to environmental conditions. The purpose of this study was to elucidate the anticipatory strategies used by able-bodied people to attain an adaptive gait pattern, and how these strategies interact with strategies used to maintain gait stability. Ten healthy subjects walked in a Computer Assisted Rehabilitation ENvironment (CAREN). To provoke an adaptive gait pattern, subjects had to hit virtual targets, with markers guided by their knees, while walking on a self-paced treadmill. The effects of walking with and without this task on walking speed, step length, step frequency, step width and the margins of stability (MoS) were assessed. Furthermore, these trials were performed with and without additional continuous ML platform translations. When an adaptive gait pattern was required, subjects decreased step length (p<0.01), tended to increase step width (p=0.074), and decreased walking speed while maintaining similar step frequency compared to unconstrained walking. These adaptations resulted in the preservation of equal MoS between trials, despite the disturbing influence of the gait adaptability task. When the gait adaptability task was combined with the balance perturbation subjects further decreased step length, as evidenced by a significant interaction between both manipulations (p=0.012). In conclusion, able-bodied people reduce step length and increase step width during walking conditions requiring a high level of both stability and adaptability. Although an increase in step frequency has previously been found to enhance stability, a faster movement, which would coincide with a higher step frequency, hampers accuracy and may consequently limit gait adaptability.

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