A ubiquitous characteristic of elderly and patients with gait disabilities is that they walk slower than healthy controls. Many clinicians assume these patients walk slower to improve their stability, just as healthy people slow down when walking across ice. However, walking slower also leads to greater variability, which is often assumed to imply deteriorated stability. If this were true, then slowing down would be completely antithetical to the goal of maintaining stability. This study sought to resolve this paradox by directly quantifying the sensitivity of the locomotor system to local perturbations that are manifested as natural kinematic variability. Eleven young healthy subjects walked on a motorized treadmill at five different speeds. Three-dimensional movements of a single marker placed over the first thoracic vertebra were recorded during continuous walking. Mean stride-to-stride standard deviations and maximum finite-time Lyapunov exponents were computed for each time series to quantify the variability and local dynamic stability, respectively, of these movements. Quadratic regression analyses of the dependent measures vs. walking speed revealed highly significant U shaped trends for all three mean standard deviations, but highly significant linear trends, with significant or nearly significant quadratic terms, for five of the six finite-time Lyapunov exponents. Subjects exhibited consistently better local dynamic stability at slower speeds for these five measures. These results support the clinically based intuition that people who are at increased risk of falling walk slower to improve their stability, even at the cost of increased variability.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
- Biomedical Engineering