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What it takes to stand up straight

NSF Award:

Linking Information about Self-motion to Multi-joint Coordination of Upright Stance  (University of Delaware)

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Researchers at the Universities of Delaware and Maryland have found that in order to stabilize the human body's position while standing upright, all joints along the body axis up to the neck must coordinate with each other. This finding contradicts earlier assumptions of a more simplistic control system.

Previously, researchers assumed that control of the ankle joint was most important to control of upright posture when standing still. During disturbances, such as correcting one's balance after tripping or walking on an unsteady surface, precise control of both ankle and hip motion were required. The control of other joints was considered less important and assumed to contribute little to maintaining stable upright posture.

However, experiments from the NSF-funded study showed that coordination of all joints along the body axis up to the neck are important for stabilizing the body's position in space. In addition, the role of sensory information was clarified. For example, while standing still, if subjects focus on a moving visual field, they will experience more body sway than while viewing a static, unmoving scene. If the visual field is limited to a particular movement rate, the body will sway at that same rate. Thus, visual experience is tightly linked to joint variability that creates body sway.

The results from this project may help increase understanding of various postural disorders such as Parkinson's disease or inner-ear disorders such as vertigo and may help rehabilitation after injury to the postural system.


  • researchers measure a person's stability when standing
Researchers measure a person's stability when standing.
John Scholz, University of Delaware

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