Postural responses to unilateral arm perturbation in young, elderly, and hemiplegic subjects

Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 1997 Oct;78(10):1072-7. doi: 10.1016/s0003-9993(97)90130-1.


Objective: To compare postural responses during standing associated with self-paced unilateral arm flexion exhibited by young and elderly healthy subjects and subjects with hemiplegia from stroke.

Design and setting: Descriptive cross-sectional study in a laboratory setting.

Patients: Ten young, 10 elderly healthy subjects, and 12 volunteers with longstanding hemiparesis following stroke were tested. The hemiplegic group had good functional balance scores on the Berg Balance Scale (BBS).

Main outcome measures: The peak arm acceleration, center of pressure (CP) excursion speed, and the electromyographic activity in the posterior leg muscles (bilateral hamstrings and triceps surae) were monitored during self-initiated rapid unilateral arm flexion and during quiet stance.

Results: During unilateral arm flexion, the young group showed the highest arm accelerations and lowest CP excursion speeds. The variability of postural responses was largest in the elderly and hemiplegic groups with hemiplegic subjects showing the greatest CP excursion speeds for the lowest arm accelerations. The first burst of activity in ipsilateral hamstrings muscle was the same in all subjects. However, the hemiplegic group had less activation (latency and amplitude) of other posterior leg muscles.

Conclusion: The elderly subjects had more variable responses to perturbation than the young subjects despite similar BBS scores. This may indicate that the BBS fails to detect differences in balance at the high end of the scale. Although the hemiplegic subjects demonstrated some anticipatory control of standing balance, they consistently performed poorer than elderly and young controls. The failure to coordinate postural leg muscle activity with focal movement may contribute to the instability of subjects with hemiplegia.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Arm / physiology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Electromyography
  • Female
  • Hemiplegia / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology