Muscular tension significantly affects stability in standing posture

Gait Posture. 2019 Feb;68:220-226. doi: 10.1016/j.gaitpost.2018.11.034. Epub 2018 Nov 28.


Background: Muscular co-contraction is a strategy commonly used by elders with the aim to increase stability. However, co-contraction leads to stiffness which in turns reduces stability. Some literature seems to suggest an opposite approach and to point out relaxation as a way to improve stability. Teaching relaxation is therefore becoming the aim of many studies letting unclear whether tension or relaxation are the most effective muscular strategy to improve stability. Relaxation is a misleading concept in our society. It is often confused with rest, while it should be addressed during stressing tasks, where it should aim to reduce energetic costs and increase stability. The inability to relax can be related to sub-optimal neuro-motor control, which can lead to increased stresses.

Research question: The objective of the study is to investigate the effect of voluntary muscle contraction and relaxation over the stability of human standing posture, answering two specific research questions: (1) Does the muscular tension have an impact on stability of standing posture? (2) Could this impact be estimated by using a minimally invasive procedure?

Methods: By using a force plate, we analysed the displacement of the center of pressure of 30 volunteers during state of tension and relaxation in comparison with a control state, and with open and closed eyes.

Results: We found that tension significantly reduced the stability of subjects (15 out of 16 parameters, p < 0.003).

Significance: Our results show that daily situations of stress can lead to decreased stability. Such a loss might actually increase the risk of chronic joint overload or fall. Finally, breathing has direct effect over the management of pain and stress, and the results reported here point out the need to explicitly explore the troubling fact that a large portion of population might not be able to properly breath.

Keywords: Muscular relaxation; Muscular tension; Postural analysis; Stability.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology*
  • Muscle Tonus / physiology*
  • Postural Balance / physiology*
  • Respiratory Mechanics / physiology
  • Standing Position*
  • Young Adult