Upward perturbations trigger a stumbling effect

D.C. Porras, B. Heimler, J.V. Jacobs, S.K. Naor, R. Inzelberg, G. Zeilig, M. Plotnik*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: Vertical perturbations are one major cause of falling. Incidentally, while conducting a comprehensive study comparing effects of vertical versus horizontal perturbations, we commonly observed a stumbling-like response induced by upward perturbations. The present study describes and characterizes this stumbling effect.Methods: Fourteen individuals (10 male; 27 +/- 4 yr) walked self-paced on a treadmill embedded in a moveable platform and synchronized to a virtual reality system. Participants experienced 36 perturbations (12 types). Here, we report only on upward perturbations. We determined stum-bling based on visual inspection of recorded videos, and calculated stride time and ante-roposterior, whole-body center of mass (COM) distance relative to the heel, i.e., COM-to-heel distance, extrapolated COM (xCOM) and margin of stability (MOS) before and after perturbation.Results: From 68 upward perturbations across 14 participants, 75% provoked stumbling. During the first gait cycle post-perturbation, stride time decreased in the perturbed foot and the un-perturbed foot (perturbed = 1.004 s vs. baseline = 1.119 s and unperturbed = 1.017 s vs. baseline = 1.125 s, p < 0.001). In the perturbed foot, the difference was larger in stumbling -provoking perturbations (stumbling: 0.15 s vs. non-stumbling: 0.020 s, p = 0.004). In addition, the COM-to-heel distance decreased during the first and second gait cycles after perturbation in both feet (first cycle: 0.58 m, second cycle: 0.665 m vs. baseline: 0.72 m, p-values<0.001). During the first gait cycle, COM-to-heel distance was larger in the perturbed foot compared to the un-perturbed foot (perturbed foot: 0.61 m vs. unperturbed foot: 0.55 m, p < 0.001). MOS decreased during the first gait cycle, whereas the xCOM increased during the second through fourth gait cycles post-perturbation (maximal xCOM at baseline: 0.5 m, second cycle: 0.63 m, third cycle: 0.66 m, fourth cycle: 0.64 m, p < 0.001).
Original languageEnglish
Article number103069
Number of pages11
JournalHuman Movement Science
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2023


  • Balance
  • Virtual reality
  • Postural control
  • Perturbation
  • Stumbling
  • SLIP


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