The control of the head movements during walking allows for the stabilisation of the optic flow, for a more effective processing of the vestibular system signals, and for the consequent control of equilibrium.
In young individuals, the oscillations of the upper body during level walking are characterised by an attenuation of the linear acceleration going from pelvis to head level. In elderly subjects the ability to implement this motor strategy is reduced. The aim of this paper is to go deeper into the mechanisms through which the head accelerations are controlled during level walking, in both young and elderly women specifically.
A stereophotogrammetric system was used to reconstruct the displacement of markers located at head, shoulder, and pelvis level while 16 young (age: 24 ± 4 years) and 20 older (age: 72 ± 4 years) female volunteers walked at comfortable and fast speed along a linear pathway. The harmonic coefficients of the displacements in the medio-lateral (ML), antero-posterior (AP), and vertical (V) directions were calculated via discrete Fourier transform, and relevant accelerations were computed by analytical double differentiation. The root mean square of the accelerations were used to define three coefficients for quantifying the attenuations of the accelerations from pelvis to head, from pelvis to shoulder, and from shoulder to head.
The coefficients of attenuation were shown to be independent from the walking speed, and hence suitable for group and subject comparison.
The acceleration in the AP direction was attenuated by the two groups both from pelvis to shoulder and from shoulder to head. The reduction of the shoulder to head acceleration, however, was less effective in older women, suggesting that the ability to exploit the cervical hinge to attenuate the AP acceleration is challenged in this population. Young women managed to exploit a pelvis to shoulder attenuation strategy also in the ML direction, whereas in the elderly group the head acceleration was even larger than the pelvis acceleration.