Standing balance requires multijoint coordination between the ankles and hips. We investigated how humans adapt their multijoint coordination to adjust to various conditions and whether the adaptation differed between healthy young participants and healthy elderly. Balance was disturbed by push/pull rods, applying two continuous and independent force disturbances at the level of the hip and between the shoulder blades. In addition, external force fields were applied, represented by an external stiffness at the hip, either stabilizing or destabilizing the participants’ balance. Multivariate closed-loop system-identification techniques were used to describe the neuromuscular control mechanisms by quantifying the corrective joint torques as a response to body sway, represented by frequency response functions (FRFs). Model fits on the FRFs resulted in an estimation of time delays, intrinsic stiffness, reflexive stiffness, and reflexive damping of both the ankle and hip joint. The elderly generated similar corrective joint torques but had reduced body sway compared with the young participants, corresponding to the increased FRF magnitude with age. When a stabilizing or destabilizing external force field was applied at the hip, both young and elderly participants adapted their multijoint coordination by lowering or respectively increasing their neuromuscular control actions around the ankles, expressed in a change of FRF magnitude. However, the elderly adapted less compared with the young participants. Model fits on the FRFs showed that elderly had higher intrinsic and reflexive stiffness of the ankle, together with higher time delays of the hip. Furthermore, the elderly adapted their reflexive stiffness around the ankle joint less compared with young participants. These results imply that elderly were stiffer and were less able to adapt to external force fields.
Bibliographical noteCopyright © 2016 the American Physiological Society.
- Healthy elderly
- Multijoint coordination
- Standing balance control