Surface Perturbation Training to Prevent Falls in Older Adults: A Highly Pragmatic, Randomized Controlled Trial

Phys Ther. 2020 Jul 19;100(7):1153-1162. doi: 10.1093/ptj/pzaa023.


Background: Falls are the leading cause of injuries among older adults, and trips and slips are major contributors to falls.

Objective: The authors sought to compare the effectiveness of adding a component of surface perturbation training to usual gait/balance training for reducing falls and fall-related injury in high-risk older adults referred to physical therapy.

Design: This was a multi-center, pragmatic, randomized, comparative effectiveness trial.

Setting: Treatment took place within 8 outpatient physical therapy clinics.

Patients: This study included 506 patients 65+ years of age at high fall risk referred for gait/balance training.

Intervention: This trial evaluated surface perturbation treadmill training integrated into usual multimodal exercise-based balance training at the therapist's discretion versus usual multimodal exercise-based balance training alone.

Measurements: Falls and injurious falls were assessed with a prospective daily fall diary, which was reviewed via telephone interview every 3 months for 1 year.A total of 211/253 (83%) patients randomized to perturbation training and 210/253 (83%) randomized to usual treatment provided data at 3-month follow-up. At 3 months, the perturbation training group had a significantly reduced chance of fall-related injury (5.7% versus 13.3%; relative risk 0.43) but no significant reduction in the risk of any fall (28% versus 37%, relative risk 0.78) compared with usual treatment. Time to first injurious fall showed reduced hazard in the first 3 months but no significant reduction when viewed over the entire first year.

Limitations: The limitations of this trial included lack of blinding and variable application of interventions across patients based on pragmatic study design.

Conclusion: The addition of some surface perturbation training to usual physical therapy significantly reduced injurious falls up to 3 months posttreatment. Further study is warranted to determine the optimal frequency, dose, progression, and duration of surface perturbation aimed at training postural responses for this population.

Trial registration: NCT01006967.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Pragmatic Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Accidental Falls* / prevention & control
  • Accidental Falls* / statistics & numerical data
  • Aged
  • Exercise Therapy / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Gait / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Physical Therapy Modalities*
  • Postural Balance / physiology*

Associated data