Transitions in a postural task: do the recruitment and suppression of degrees of freedom stabilize posture? Academic Article uri icon


  • In this study, we examined flexibility in postural coordination by inducing transitions between postural patterns. Previous work demonstrated that the postural control system produces two task-specific postural patterns as a function of the frequency of support surface translation. For slow translation frequencies (<0.5 Hz), subjects ride on the platform reminiscent of upright stance (ride pattern), and for fast frequencies (> or =0.75 Hz) subjects actively fixed the head and trunk in space (head fixed pattern) during anterior-posterior platform motion. To study the adaptation of the postural control system, we had subjects stand on a support surface undergoing increases (from 0.2 to 1.0 Hz in 0.1-Hz steps) and decreases (from 1.0 to 0.2 Hz in 0.1-Hz steps) in translation frequency with the eyes open and closed. Kinematic measures of sagittal plane body motion revealed a gradual transition between these two postural patterns as a function of frequency scaling. In both the increasing and decreasing frequency conditions with visual input, center of mass displacements gradually decreased and increased, respectively, whereas upper-trunk (and head) displacement decreased gradually within the ride pattern until a head fixed pattern was observed without any significant changes in displacement for translation frequencies at and above 0.6 Hz. Without visual input, the scaling of the ride pattern was similar except the transition to the head fixed pattern never emerged with increasing frequency; instead, a less stable pattern exhibiting slow drift in head-trunk anterior-posterior motion (drift pattern) was observed at and above 0.5 Hz oscillations. The stability of the head fixed pattern at fast frequencies was clearly dependent on visual input suggesting that vision was more critical for trunk and head control in space at high than low translation frequencies. Head velocity was kept constant, and lower with vision, as translation frequency (and velocity) changed suggesting a head velocity threshold constraint across postural patterns. The gradual transition from the ride to the head fixed pattern was made possible by the recruitment of available degrees of freedom in the form of ankle, then knee, and then hip joint motion. In turn, the transition from the head fixed or drift pattern was made possible by the gradual suppression of available degrees of freedom in the form of reducing hip, then knee, and then ankle motion. The gradual change in postural kinematics without instabilities and hysteresis suggests that the ability to recruit and suppress biomechanical degrees of freedom allows the postural control system to gradually change postural strategies without suffering a loss of stability. The results are discussed in light of possible self-organizing mechanisms in the multisensory control of posture.

published proceedings

  • Exp Brain Res

author list (cited authors)

  • Buchanan, J. J., & Horak, F. B.

citation count

  • 51

complete list of authors

  • Buchanan, JJ||Horak, FB

publication date

  • January 2001