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Gait Posture. 2002 Apr;15(2):159-71.

Changes in gait when anticipating slippery floors.

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Room 153, Department of Bioengineering, Eye and Ear Institute Building, University of Pittsburgh, 203 Lothrop Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA.


Falls precipitated by slipping are listed among the leading causes of injuries. The biomechanical analysis of such events is a necessary component of the slips/falls prevention research. One of the challenges of biomechanical studies is reproducing the unexpected nature of real-life slipping accidents. Thus, the goal of this study was to quantify changes in gait biomechanics when subjects anticipate slippery environments. Foot ground reaction forces and body dynamics of 16 subjects were recorded during level walking and descending ramps of varying frictional properties and inclination. Gait biomechanics were compared among three types of dry trials: (1) baseline (subjects knew the floor was dry); (2) anticipation (subjects were uncertain of the contaminant condition, dry, water, soap or oil); and (3) recovery trials recorded after a contaminated trial (subjects again knew the floor was dry). Subjects were asked to walk as naturally as possible throughout testing. Anticipation trials produced peak required coefficient of friction (RCOF(peak)) values that were on average 16-33% significantly lower than those collected during baseline trials, thus reducing slip potential. During recovery trials, RCOF(peak) values did not return to baseline characteristics (5-12% lower). Postural and temporal gait adaptations, which affected ground reaction forces, were used to achieve RCOF(peak) reductions. Statistically significant gait adaptations included reductions in stance duration (SD) and loading speed on the supporting foot, shorter normalized stride length (NSL), reduced foot-ramp angle and slower angular foot velocity at heel contact. As a result of these adaptations, anticipation of slippery surfaces led to significant changes in lower extremity joint moments, a reflection of overall muscle reactions. Thus, this study suggests that significant gait changes are made when there is a potential risk of slipping even though subjects were asked to walk as naturally as possible. Insights are also gained into the adaptations that are used to reduce the potential of slips/falls.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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