Arm swing during human gait has been shown to reduce both angular momentum about the vertical and energy expenditure, and has been hypothesized to enhance gait stability. To examine this hypothesis, we studied the effect of arm swing on the local and global stability of steady-state gait, as well as the ability to perform adequate recovery actions following a perturbation. Trunk kinematics of 11 male subjects was measured in treadmill walking with normal and with restricted arm swing. In half of the trials, gait was perturbed by a position-controlled forward pull to the trunk. We constructed state spaces using data recorded from the unperturbed steady-state walking trials, and quantified local gait stability by calculating maximum Lyapunov exponents. In addition, we analyzed perturbation forces, the distance from the unperturbed gait pattern, and the return toward the normal gait pattern following an external perturbation. Walking without arm swing led to a non-significantly lower Lyapunov exponent (P0.06), significantly higher perturbation forces (P<0.05), and significantly slower movements away from the attractor (P<0.01). These results suggest that gait without arm swing is characterized by similar local stability to gait with arm swing and a higher perturbation resistance. However, return towards the normal gait pattern was significantly slower (P<0.05) when walking with restricted arms, suggesting that the arms play an important role in the recovery from a perturbation. Collectively, the results suggest that arm swing as such does not enhance gait stability, but rather that recovery movements of the arms contribute to the overall stability of human gait. © 2010. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd.