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Influence of light handrail use on the biomechanics of stair negotiation in old age

Reeves, Neil D. and Spanjaard, Marcel and Mohagheghi, Amir A. and Baltzopoulos, Vasilios and Maganaris, Constantinos N. (2008) Influence of light handrail use on the biomechanics of stair negotiation in old age. Gait and posture, 28 (2). pp. 327-336. ISSN 0966-6362

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Abstract

The high incidence of falls in older adults during stair negotiation suggests that this task is physically challenging and potentially dangerous. The present study aimed to examine the influence of light handrail use on the biomechanics of stair negotiation in old age. Thirteen older adults ascended and descended a purpose-built staircase at their self-selected speed: (i) unaided and (ii) with light use of the handrails. Ground reaction forces (GRFs) were measured from force platforms mounted into each step and motion capture was used to collect kinematic data. Knee and ankle joint moments were calculated using the kinetic and kinematic data. The horizontal separation between the centre of mass (COM) and the centre of pressure (COP) was assessed in the sagittal and frontal planes. During stair ascent, handrail use caused a different strategy to be employed compared to unaided ascent with a redistribution of joint moments. Specifically, the ankle joint moment (of the trailing leg) was reduced with handrail use, which has previously been shown to approach its limits during unaided stair ascent, but the knee joint moment (of the leading leg) increased. Previous research has shown that a larger joint moment reserve is available at the knee during unaided stair ascent. During stair descent, the ankle joint moment increased with handrail use, this was associated, however, with a more effective control of balance as shown by a reduced COM-COP separation in the direction of progression compared to unaided descent. These results indicate that although the biomechanical mechanisms are different for stair ascent and descent, the safety of stair negotiation is improved for older adults with light use of the handrails.

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