Shifting the balance: evidence of an exploratory role for postural sway

Neuroscience. 2010 Nov 24;171(1):196-204. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2010.08.030. Epub 2010 Aug 26.


Humans and other species are unable to stand perfectly still; their bodies continuously sway during stance even during concentrated efforts to avoid such movement. Traditionally, this phenomenon has been viewed as an inability of the central nervous system (CNS) to maintain perfect equilibrium because of its reliance on feedback from sensory signals to control corrective ground-reaction forces. Using a novel method to minimize movements of the body during stance without subject awareness, we have made the unique discovery that ground-reaction forces are generated independent of body sway, as evidenced by observations of increased centre of pressure variability when postural sway is minimized experimentally. Contrary to traditional views, our results suggest that postural sway may be used by the CNS as an exploratory mechanism to ensure that continuous dynamic inputs are provided by multiple sensory systems. This novel paradigm has the potential to significantly shift long-standing views on balance, and questions the theoretical basis behind conventional treatment strategies for balance deficits associated with age and disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Electromyography / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Movement / physiology
  • Postural Balance / physiology*
  • Posture / physiology*
  • Pressure
  • Young Adult