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J Biomech. 2011 Feb 24;44(4):644-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jbiomech.2010.11.007. Epub 2010 Nov 20.

Dynamic stability of human walking in visually and mechanically destabilizing environments.

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Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of Texas, Austin, TX 78712, USA.


Understanding how humans remain stable during challenging locomotor activities is critical to developing effective tests to diagnose patients with increased fall risk. This study determined if different continuous low-amplitude perturbations would induce specific measureable changes in measures of dynamic stability during walking. We applied continuous pseudo-random oscillations of either the visual scene or support surface in either the anterior-posterior or mediolateral directions to subjects walking in a virtual environment with speed-matched optic flow. Floquet multipliers and short-term local divergence exponents both increased (indicating greater instability) during perturbed walking. These responses were generally much stronger for body movements occurring in the same directions as the applied perturbations. Likewise, subjects were more sensitive to both visual and mechanical perturbations applied in the mediolateral direction than to those applied in the anterior-posterior direction, consistent with previous experiments and theoretical predictions. These responses were likewise consistent with subjects' anecdotal perceptions of which perturbation conditions were most challenging. Contrary to the Floquet multipliers and short-term local divergence exponents, which both increased, long-term local divergence exponents decreased during perturbed walking. However, this was consistent with specific changes in the mean log divergence curves, which indicated that subjects' movements reached their maximum local divergence limits more quickly during perturbed walking. Overall, the Floquet multipliers were less sensitive, but reflected greater specificity in their responses to the different perturbation conditions. Conversely, the short-term local divergence exponents exhibited less specificity in their responses, but were more sensitive measures of instability in general.

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