Interdependence of balance mechanisms during bipedal locomotion.PLoS One 2019; 14(12):e0225902Plos
Our main interest is to identify how humans maintain upright while walking. Balance during standing and walking is different, primarily due to a gait cycle which the nervous system must contend with a variety of body configurations and frequent perturbations (i.e., heel-strike). We have identified three mechanisms that healthy young adults use to respond to a visually perceived fall to the side. The lateral ankle mechanism and the foot placement mechanism are used to shift the center of pressure in the direction of the perceived fall, and the center of mass away from the perceived fall. The push-off mechanism, a systematic change in ankle plantarflexion angle in the trailing leg, results in fine adjustments to medial-lateral balance near the end of double stance. The focus here is to understand how the three basic balance mechanisms are coordinated to produce an overall balance response. The results indicate that lateral ankle and foot placement mechanisms are inversely related. Larger lateral ankle responses lead to smaller foot placement changes. Correlations involving the push-off mechanism, while significant, were weak. However, the consistency of the correlations across stimulus conditions suggest the push-off mechanism has the role of small adjustments to medial-lateral movement near the end of the balance response. This verifies that a fundamental feature of human bipedal gait is a highly flexible balance system that recruits and coordinates multiple mechanisms to maintain upright balance during walking to accommodate extreme changes in body configuration and frequent perturbations.