Postural orientation and equilibrium: what do we need to know about neural control of balance to prevent falls?

Age Ageing. 2006 Sep:35 Suppl 2:ii7-ii11. doi: 10.1093/ageing/afl077.


Postural control is no longer considered simply a summation of static reflexes but, rather, a complex skill based on the interaction of dynamic sensorimotor processes. The two main functional goals of postural behaviour are postural orientation and postural equilibrium. Postural orientation involves the active alignment of the trunk and head with respect to gravity, support surfaces, the visual surround and internal references. Sensory information from somatosensory, vestibular and visual systems is integrated, and the relative weights placed on each of these inputs are dependent on the goals of the movement task and the environmental context. Postural equilibrium involves the coordination of movement strategies to stabilise the centre of body mass during both self-initiated and externally triggered disturbances of stability. The specific response strategy selected depends not only on the characteristics of the external postural displacement but also on the individual's expectations, goals and prior experience. Anticipatory postural adjustments, prior to voluntary limb movement, serve to maintain postural stability by compensating for destabilising forces associated with moving a limb. The amount of cognitive processing required for postural control depends both on the complexity of the postural task and on the capability of the subject's postural control system. The control of posture involves many different underlying physiological systems that can be affected by pathology or sub-clinical constraints. Damage to any of the underlying systems will result in different, context-specific instabilities. The effective rehabilitation of balance to improve mobility and to prevent falls requires a better understanding of the multiple mechanisms underlying postural control.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Accidental Falls / prevention & control*
  • Aged
  • Aging*
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Cognition
  • Humans
  • Movement
  • Postural Balance*
  • Posture*
  • Psychomotor Performance