What is the Effect of Stable & Unstable Load Carriage on Walking Gait Variability, Dynamic Stability & Muscle Activity of Older Adults?

Research Paper Title

Effect of stable and unstable load carriage on walking gait variability, dynamic stability and muscle activity of older adults.

Background

Load carriage perturbs the neuromuscular system, which can be impaired due to ageing.

The ability to counteract perturbations is an indicator of neuromuscular function but if the response is insufficient the risk of falls will increase.

However, it is unknown how load carriage affects older adults.

Methods

Fourteen older adults (65 ± 6 years) attended a single visit during which they performed 4 min of walking in 3 conditions, unloaded, stable backpack load and unstable backpack load.

During each walking trial, 3-dimensional kinematics of the lower limb and trunk movements and electromyographic activity of 6 lower limb muscles were recorded.

The local dynamic stability (local divergence exponents), joint angle variability and spatio-temporal variability were determined along with muscle activation magnitudes.

Results

Medio-lateral dynamic stability was lower (p = 0.018) and step width (p = 0.019) and step width variability (p = 0.015) were greater in unstable load walking and step width variability was greater in stable load walking (p = 0.009) compared to unloaded walking.

However, there was no effect on joint angle variability.

Unstable load carriage increased activity of the Rectus Femoris (p = 0.001) and Soleus (p = 0.043) and stable load carriage increased Rectus Femoris activity (p = 0.006).

Conclusions

These results suggest that loaded walking alters the gait of older adults and that unstable load carriage reduces dynamic stability compared to unloaded walking. This can potentially increase the risk of falls, but also offers the potential to use unstable loads as part of fall prevention programmes.

Reference

Walsh, G.S., Low, D.C. & Arkesteijn, M. (2019) Effect of stable and unstable load carriage on walking gait variability, dynamic stability and muscle activity of older adults. Journal of Biomechanics. 73, pp.18-23. doi: 10.1016/j.jbiomech.2018.03.018. Epub 2018 Mar 16.

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