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Force accuracy rather than high stiffness is associated with faster learning and reduced falls in human balance

Cherif, Amel and Loram, Ian and Zenzeri, Jacopo (2020) Force accuracy rather than high stiffness is associated with faster learning and reduced falls in human balance. Scientific Reports, 10 (1).

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Abstract

Balance requires the centre of mass to be maintained within the base of support. This can be achieved by minimising position sway (stiffness control: SC) or minimising force error (force accuracy control: FAC). Minimising sway reduces exploration of system properties, whereas minimising force error maximizes accurate mapping of the force vs position. We hypothesise that (i) FAC is associated with faster learning and fewer falls whereas (ii) SC is not. Fifteen participants used myoelectric signals from their legs to maintain balance of an actuated, inverted pendulum, to which they were strapped. Using challenging perturbations, participants were trained to maintain balance without falling within five sessions and tested before (PRE) and after (POST) training. We quantified FAC as ‘change (POST-PRE) in correlation of force with position’ and SC as ‘change in sway’. PRE training, five measures (sway, acceleration, co-contraction, effort, falls) showed no correlation with either FAC or SC. POST training, reduced fall rate, effort and acceleration correlated with FAC metric. SC correlated only with reduced sway. Unlike sway minimisation, development of force accuracy was associated with learning and reduced falls. These results support that accurate force estimation allowing movement is more relevant than stiffness to improve balance and prevent falls.

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