Background: Individuals with osteoarthritis fall at a greater rate than the general population, likely as a result of weakness, pain, movement limitations, and a decline in balance. Due to the high prevalence of osteoarthritis in the population, understanding the mechanisms leading to greater fall risk is an important issue to better understand.
Research question: What is the influence of unilateral knee osteoarthritis on the characteristics of performing a voluntary step (i.e., similar to that performed to avoid a fall after a perturbation), compared to healthy age-matched controls?
Methods: Case-control study performed in a Health maintenance organization physical therapy clinic. The research group consisted of a referred sample of 21 patients with unilateral knee osteoarthritis. The control group consisted of 22 age-matched healthy individuals. All participants were over 65 years of age. Participants were excluded if they had a surgical procedure to back or lower limb within one year before testing, oncological or neurological disease or a deficit in tactile sense. Movements were performed with and without dual tasking.
Measurements: Duration of the initiation phase (cue to step initiation), preparatory phase (step initiation to foot off) and swing phase (foot off to foot contact).
Results: In the preparatory phase and swing phase, the osteoarthritis group moved more slowly than the control group, and these differences were larger for forward compared to backward movements. Dual-tasking slowed responses in the pre-movement initiation stage across groups.
Significance: The differences in basic parameters, and the slower movements in the osteoarthritis group, are consistent with known features of osteoarthritis, being a disease commonly regarded as primarily "mechanical", and are likely to increase fall risk. These response deficits suggest we should take advantage of advanced rehabilitation techniques, including cognitive loading, to help prevent falls in older adults with osteoarthritis.
Keywords: Accidental falls; Gait; Knee; Osteoarthritis; Voluntary step.
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