Fear of falling modifies anticipatory postural control

Exp Brain Res. 2002 Mar;143(2):160-70. doi: 10.1007/s00221-001-0974-8. Epub 2002 Jan 24.


This study investigated the influence of fear of falling or postural threat on the control of posture and movement during a voluntary rise to toes task for 12 healthy young adults. Postural threat was modified through alterations to the surface height at which individuals stood (low or high platform) and changes in step restriction (away from or at the edge of the platform) creating four levels of postural threat: LOW AWAY, LOW EDGE, HIGH AWAY and HIGH EDGE. To rise to the toes, an initial postural adjustment must destabilise the body so that it can be moved forward and elevated to a new position of support over the toes. Centre of pressure and centre of mass profiles, as well as tibialis anterior (TA), soleus (SO) and gastrocnemius (GA) muscle activity patterns were used to describe this behaviour. The results showed that the performance of the rise to toes task was significantly modified when positioned at the edge of the high platform. In this situation, the central nervous system reduced the magnitude and rate of the postural adjustments and subsequent voluntary movement. Although the duration of the movement was lengthened for this most threatening condition, the sequencing and relative timing of TA, SO and GA muscle activity was preserved. These changes in rise to toes behaviour were accompanied by evidence of increased physiological arousal and participant reports of decreased confidence, increased anxiety and decreased stability. Evidence of fear of falling effects on anticipatory postural control is clinically relevant as it may explain deficits in this control observed in individuals with balance disorders. For example, individuals with Parkinson's disease or cerebellar dysfunction demonstrate impaired performance on the rise to toes task as reflected in alterations of both the timing and magnitude of their anticipatory postural adjustments. Our findings suggest alterations in the magnitude of postural adjustments may be magnified by fear of falling while changes in the timing of postural adjustments may reflect underlying pathology.

MeSH terms

  • Accidental Falls*
  • Adult
  • Anxiety / physiopathology*
  • Electromyography
  • Fear*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Movement*
  • Postural Balance*
  • Posture*
  • Skin Physiological Phenomena
  • Toes