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Centre of mass control is reduced in older people when descending stairs at an increased riser height

Foster, RJ and Maganaris, CN and Reeves, ND and Buckley, JG (2019) Centre of mass control is reduced in older people when descending stairs at an increased riser height. Gait and Posture, 73. pp. 305-314. ISSN 0966-6362

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Abstract

© 2019 Background: Maintaining body centre of mass (CoM) lowering velocity within manageable/safe limits during stair descent can be problematic for older individuals due to reduced ranges of motion at the involved joints (ankle and knee) and a reduced ability to generate adequate joint moments at the extremes in joint ranges of motion. These problems are likely to magnify in circumstances where the distance of lowering increases, or when misjudging the height of lowering. Research question: How does a 50% increase in standard stair riser-height affect control of CoM velocity and acceleration of older people during stair descent? Methods: Fifteen older (75 ± 3 years) and seventeen young (25 ± 4 years) healthy adults descended a 4-step staircase, at two riser-heights: 170 mm, 255 mm. Changes in peak vertical CoM acceleration and velocity, and lower-limb joint kinetics (moments, work) during landing and lowering phases of stair descent were assessed using a mixed-design repeated measures analysis of variance. Results: Peak CoM accelerations and velocities during landing and lowering were lower in older compared to young adults and increased in both groups at 255 mm riser-height. Duration of lowering also increased, particularly for older adults. Peak ankle moments during landing and lowering, which were lower in older compared to young adults, increased when descending from 255 mm riser-height, whilst the peak knee moment reduced. Both groups produced increased landing-limb negative (eccentric) ankle joint work when descending from 255 mm, but increases were greater for older adults (87.8%) compared to young (76.1%). Significance: Descending stairs became more challenging in both age groups as riser-height increased. Older adults adopted a strategy of reducing CoM velocity to lessen the eccentric landing demands. In both groups, but more so older adults, there was a greater reliance on using leading-limb eccentric plantarflexion at 255 mm riser-height compared to 170 mm, to arrest/control increased downward CoM velocity and acceleration during landing.

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