Age-related strength loss affects non-stepping balance recovery

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Public Library of Science


Aging is associated with a higher risk of falls, and an impaired ability to recover balance after a postural perturbation is an important contributing factor. In turn, this impaired recovery ability likely stems from age-related decrements in lower limb strength. The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of age-related strength loss on non-stepping balance recovery capability after a perturbation while standing, without constraining movements to the ankle as in prior reports. Two experiments were conducted. In the first, five young adults (ages 20–30) and six community-dwelling older adults (ages 70–80) recovered their balance, without stepping, from a backward displacement of a support surface. Balance recovery capability was quantified as the maximal backward platform displacement that a subject could withstand without stepping. The maximal platform displacement was 27% smaller among the older group (11.8±2.1 cm) vs. the young group (16.2±2.6 cm). In the second experiment, forward dynamic simulations of a two-segment, rigid-body model were used to investigate the effects of manipulating strength in the hip extensors/flexors and ankle plantar flexors/dorsiflexors. In these, typical age-related reductions in strength were included. The model predicted lower maximal platform displacements with age-related reductions only in plantar flexion and hip flexion strength. These findings support the previously reported age-related loss of balance recovery ability, and an important role for plantar flexor strength in this ability. © 2019 Koushyar et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.