The influence of the aquatic environment on the control of postural sway

Gait Posture. 2017 Jan;51:70-76. doi: 10.1016/j.gaitpost.2016.09.009. Epub 2016 Sep 28.


Balance training in the aquatic environment is often used in rehabilitation practice to improve static and dynamic balance. Although aquatic therapy is widely used in clinical practice, we still lack evidence on how immersion in water actually impacts postural control. We examined how postural sway measured using centre of pressure and trunk acceleration parameters are influenced by the aquatic environment along with the effects of visual information. Our results suggest that the aquatic environment increases postural instability, measured by the centre of pressure parameters in the time-domain. The mean velocity and area were more significantly affected when individuals stood with eyes closed in the aquatic environment. In addition, a more forward posture was assumed in water with eyes closed in comparison to standing on land. In water, the low frequencies of sway were more dominant compared to standing on dry land. Trunk acceleration differed in water and dry land only for the larger upper trunk acceleration in mediolateral direction during standing in water. This finding shows that the study participants potentially resorted to using their upper trunk to compensate for postural instability in mediolateral direction. Only the lower trunk seemed to change acceleration pattern in anteroposterior and mediolateral directions when the eyes were closed, and it did so depending on the environment conditions. The increased postural instability and the change in postural control strategies that the aquatic environment offers may be a beneficial stimulus for improving balance control.

Keywords: Aquatic environment; Center of pressure; Postural sway; Quiet standing; Trunk acceleration.

MeSH terms

  • Acceleration*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Male
  • Movement*
  • Postural Balance*
  • Torso / physiology*
  • Young Adult

Grant support