Variability and Specificity in Reactive Stabilization Movements to Diverse Slip Perturbations

  • End date
    Aug 1, 2024
  • participants needed
  • sponsor
    University of Nebraska
Updated on 27 January 2021


To maintain mobility as we age we must navigate a complex environment that challenges us with a range of disturbances.

Unfortunately, older adults are often unsuccessful in resisting these disturbances, and fall. Falls are the greatest source of injury, and for older adults, the greatest source of injury-related death. Approximately a quarter of falls happen following slips.

Recent research on slips has shown that use of perturbation training to improve specific motor skills to resist slips can vastly reduce falls. However, these interventions have only addressed slips occurring at heel-strike, and not the diverse range of slipping disturbances presented by a complex environment. This project will focus on slips that occur across the gait cycle, and the reactive stabilization movements that follow. Slips at different phases of the gait cycle have unique biomechanical contexts, and successful reactive stabilization movements are likely to be highly specific to that context. Yet nothing is known about the specificity of the repertoire of reactive stabilization movements to resist different slip conditions. Furthermore, variability in the repertoire of reactive stabilization movements is likely to affect the success/failure rate of resisting these disturbances. Thus, the objective of the proposed project is to determine the roles of variability and specificity in reactive stabilization movements to resist falling in diverse slipping conditions. A novel wearable apparatus for slip perturbations will deliver lifelike, unexpected slips in early, middle and late stance in younger and older adults. Biomechanical analysis based on three-dimensional motion capture data of the reactive stabilization movements will generate novel results on the specificity and variability of protective stepping and arm swinging responses. The central hypothesis is that increases in specificity and decreases in variability of reactive stabilization movements will reduce fall rates. The first specific aim is to quantify variability and specificity of reactive responses to diverse slip perturbations and determine their relationships to fall rates. The second specific aim is to determine how repeated exposure to diverse slip perturbations affects reactive responses, and whether it relates to gait variability. The long-term objective of this research is to support future studies into the repertoire of reactive stabilization movements across the full range of disturbances faced in navigating the environment.


Subjects will be recruited through fliers from local exercise and community centers, independent senior living centers, and on the campus of the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Younger subjects age 19-35 years will be recruited. Older adults age 65-79 years will be recruited.

At entry in the study, all subjects must self-report to be free from the following: history of 1 or more falls in the previous year, ear infections, vertigo, Meniere's disease, chronic dizziness. Subjects will not be excluded, but information will be collected on the following factors: hip/knee replacements, pain in the body, body-mass index, daily physical activity measures. A written informed consent approved by the Institutional Review Board of the University of Nebraska Medical Center (the IRB of record) will be obtained prior to the screening process.

Study Procedures Overview: Analysis of responses and falls from diverse slip perturbations will take place in the main Motion Analysis Laboratory of the Biomechanics Research Building at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Each subject will participate in 3 visits within the span of 1 week. On the initial visit, subjects will perform informed consent, then be asked to provide demographic information (age, gender, height, body mass), a medical questionnaire to assess exclusion criteria, and a physical activity questionnaire. Upper and lower body strength will be measured using a hand-held dynamometer during the first and last visits. On each of the three visits, subjects will perform a gait variability assessment followed by a diverse slip perturbation assessment.

Gait variability assessment procedures: Before recording data, retroreflective markers will be placed on specific anatomical locations. These locations are defined to create a full-body dynamics model. Following familiarization, subjects will walk on a treadmill for 5 minutes at a prescribed pace of 1.3 meters per second while whole body kinematics are collected. Both linear and nonlinear measures of gait variability will be calculated (Table 1) to determine possible relationships between these measures and other outcome variables such as learning rate for reactive movements, and fall rate.

Diverse slip perturbation assessment procedures: subjects will walk overground back and forth across a large motion capture area. Previous studies show that walking speed is highly correlated with some outcome measures, specifically variations in whole body angular momentum, gait variability measures, and loss of balance following a slip. Therefore, we will control gait speed across all subjects to 1.3 0.2 m/s, a typically comfortable speed for both younger and older adults. Participants will be informed that a slip may occur, and that if slipped, they should attempt to maintain balance and continue walking. Subjects will then be slipped without warning at a randomly chosen time after 1 to 3 minutes of walking. Slips will be administered to both feet simultaneously during early, middle or late stance in a randomized order.

After each slip, subjects will rest seated for 5 minutes. During this rest period, motion capture data and force data from the harness will be recorded, and the WASP will be reset for the next trial. Subjects will complete four slips in each of early, middle, and late stance on each visit. Measures of falls, slip severity, and reactive stabilization movements will be calculated.

Condition Slip Perturbations
Treatment Administered Slip Perturbations
Clinical Study IdentifierNCT03755336
SponsorUniversity of Nebraska
Last Modified on27 January 2021


Yes No Not Sure

Inclusion Criteria

Age 19-35 years for younger adults group, or age 65-79 for older adults group

Exclusion Criteria

Uncontrolled hypertension
Peripheral arterial disease
Meniere's disease
Chronic dizziness
History of back or lower extremity injury
Surgery that affects the subject's mobility
Any neurological disease or impairment that affects limits the ability to walk, e.g. Stroke, Parkinson's disease, Multiple sclerosis
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