The role of the neck and trunk in facilitating head stability during walking

Exp Brain Res. 2006 Jul;172(4):454-63. doi: 10.1007/s00221-006-0353-6. Epub 2006 Feb 18.


An apparent goal of the human postural system is to maintain head stability during walking. Although much is known about sensory-motor stabilising mechanisms associated with the head and neck, less is known about how the postural system attenuates motion between the trunk and neck segments in order to regulate head motion. Therefore the purpose of this study was to determine the role that the neck and the trunk play in stabilising the head at a range of walking speeds. Eight healthy male subjects (age: 23+/-4 years) performed self-selected slow, preferred, and fast walking speed trials along a 30 m walkway. Four custom-designed wireless triaxial accelerometers were attached to the head, upper trunk, lower trunk, and shank of each subject to measure vertical (VT), anterior-posterior (AP), and mediolateral (ML) accelerations. Acceleration data were examined in each direction using RMS, power spectral, harmonic, and regularity measures. Signal regularity was increased from the lower to upper trunk for all walking speeds and directions with the exception of the slow speed in the AP direction. Evidence from analysis of power spectral and amplitude characteristics of acceleration signals was suggestive that accelerations are also attenuated from the lower to upper trunk by dynamics of the intervening trunk segment. Differences in selected power spectral and amplitude characteristics between the accelerations of the upper trunk and head due to the intervening neck segment were only detected in the AP direction at preferred and fast walking speeds. Overall the findings of the present study suggest that the trunk segment plays a critical role in regulating gait-related oscillations in all directions. Only accelerations in the direction of travel at preferred and fast speeds required additional control from the neck segment in order to enhance head stability during walking.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acceleration*
  • Adult
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Electromyography / methods
  • Extremities / physiology*
  • Head Movements / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neck / physiology*
  • Postural Balance / physiology*
  • Posture
  • Walking / physiology*