The Next Step in Understanding Impaired Reactive Balance Control in People With Stroke: The Role of Defective Early Automatic Postural Responses

Neurorehabil Neural Repair. 2017 Aug;31(8):708-716. doi: 10.1177/1545968317718267. Epub 2017 Jul 8.


Background and objective: Postural muscle responses are often impaired after stroke. We aimed to identify the contribution of deficits in very early postural responses to poorer reactive balance capacity, with a particular focus on reactive stepping as a key strategy for avoiding falls.

Methods: A total of 34 chronic stroke survivors and 17 controls were subjected to translational balance perturbations in 4 directions. We identified the highest perturbation intensity that could be recovered without stepping (single stepping threshold [SST]) and with maximally 1 step (multiple stepping threshold [MST]). We determined onset latencies and response amplitudes of 7 leg muscles bilaterally and identified associations with balance capacity.

Results: People with stroke had a lower MST than controls in all directions. Side steps resulted in a higher lateral MST than crossover steps but were less common toward the paretic side. Postural responses were delayed and smaller in amplitude on the paretic side only. We observed the strongest associations between gluteus medius (GLUT) onset and amplitude and MST toward the paretic side ( R2 = 0.33). Electromyographic variables were rather weakly associated with forward and backward MSTs ( R2 = 0.10-0.22) and with SSTs ( R2 = 0.08-0.15).

Conclusions: Delayed and reduced paretic postural responses are associated with impaired reactive stepping after stroke. Particularly, fast and vigorous activity of the GLUT is imperative for overcoming large sideways perturbations, presumably because it facilitates the effective use of side steps. Because people with stroke often fall toward the paretic side, this finding indicates an important target for training.

Keywords: postural muscle response; postural stability; reactive stepping; stroke.

MeSH terms

  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiopathology
  • Autonomic Nervous System Diseases / etiology
  • Autonomic Nervous System Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Electromyography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology
  • Paresis / etiology
  • Paresis / physiopathology
  • Postural Balance / physiology*
  • Stroke / complications
  • Stroke / physiopathology*