Sensorimotor changes such as postural and gait instabilities can affect the functional performance of astronauts after gravitational transitions. When astronauts are trained before flight with supra-threshold noisy, stochastic vestibular stimulation (SVS), the central nervous system can be trained to reweight sensory information by using veridical information from other sensory inputs (such as vision and proprioception) for postural and gait control. This reweighting, in turn, can enhance functional performance in novel gravitational environments. However, the optimal maximum amplitude of stimulation has not yet been identified that can simulate the effect of deterioration in vestibular inputs for preflight training or for evaluating vestibular contribution in functional tests in general. Most studies have used arbitrary but fixed maximum current amplitudes from 3 to 5 mA in the mediolateral (ML) direction to disrupt balance function in both ML and anterior-posterior directions in healthy adults. The goal of this study was to determine the minimum SVS level that yields an equivalently degraded balance performance. Fourteen subjects stood on a compliant surface with their eyes closed and were instructed to maintain a stable upright stance. Measures of stability of the head, trunk, and whole body were quantified in the ML direction. Objective perceptual motion thresholds were estimated ahead of time by having subjects sit on a chair with their eyes closed and giving 1-Hz bipolar binaural sinusoidal electrical stimulation at various current amplitudes. Results from the balance task suggest that using stimulation amplitudes of 280% of motion-perceptual threshold (~2.2 mA on average) significantly degraded balance performance.

Listed In: Biomechanics, Neuroscience, Posturography

Sensory contributions to standing balance in unilateral vestibulopathy

Patients with unilateral peripheral vestibular disorder (UPVD) have diminished postural stability and therefore the aim of this study was to examine the contribution of multiple sensory systems to postural control in UPVD. Seventeen adults with UPVD and 17 healthy controls participated in this study. Centre of pressure (COP) trajectories were assessed using a force plate during six standing tasks: Forwards and backwards leaning, and standing with and without Achilles tendon vibration, each with eyes open and eyes closed. Postural stability was evaluated over 30s by means of: total COP excursion distance (COPPath) and the distances between the most anterior and posterior points of the COPPath and the anterior and posterior anatomical boundaries of the base of support (COPAmin and COPPmin). In addition, the corrected COPAmin and COPPmin was assessed by taking the corrected base of support boundaries into account using the anterior and posterior COP data from the leaning tasks. UPVD patients showed a tendency for smaller limits of stability during the leaning tasks in both directions. Subject group and task condition effects were found (P<0.05) for COPPath, (i.e. higher values for patients compared to controls). UPVD patients showed lower (P<0.05) COPPmin values compared to the control group for all conditions (more pronounced with the corrected COPPmin). Disturbance of the visual system alone lead to a distinct postural backward sway in both subject groups which became significantly more pronounced in combination with Achilles tendon vibration. The individual limits of stability should be considered in future research when conducting posturographic measurements.
Listed In: Biomechanics, Neuroscience, Physical Therapy, Posturography

Static postural control does not strongly predict dynamic gait stability recovery following a trip in adults with and without vestibular dysfunction

Unilateral peripheral vestibular disorder (UPVD) negatively affects upper and lower body motor performance, but postural control during quiet stance in UPVD patients has not been directly compared with dynamic stability control after an unexpected perturbation during locomotion. We analysed centre of pressure (COP) characteristics during static posturography in UPVD patients and healthy controls and compared this with performance of a trip recovery task. 17 UPVD patients and 17 healthy controls were unexpectedly tripped while walking on a treadmill. The margin of stability (MoS) was calculated at touchdown (TD) of the perturbed step and the first six recovery steps. Posturography was used to assess postural stability during 30 seconds of standing with eyes open and closed using a force plate. The trip reduced the MoS of the perturbed leg (p<0.05) with no significant differences in MoS between the groups. Controls returned to MoS baseline level in five steps and patients did not return within the six steps. UPVD patients showed a greater total COP sway path excursion (closed eyes only), anterior-posterior range of COP distance and a more posterior COP position in relation to the posterior boundary of the base of support. There were no significant correlations between COP sway path excursion and MoS values. We concluded that UPVD patients have a diminished ability to control and recover dynamic gait stability after an unexpected trip and lower static postural stability control compared to healthy matched controls, but that trip recovery and static postural control rely on different control mechanisms.
Listed In: Biomechanics, Gait, Neuroscience, Physical Therapy, Posturography