The influence of age and fall history on single transition step kinematics


      • Older adults with a history of falls may have greater distal strength declines.
      • Older adults place foot at single step descent landing closer to the step.
      • Older land with a more flexed knee than young, may explain decreased foot placement.


      The risk of falls during locomotion increases with age, and step negotiation is one of the most hazardous types of gait for older adults. Further, a history of a fall is one of the strongest predictors of a future fall; and women fall more frequently, and incur greater medical costs, compared to men. The purpose of the study was to identify lower extremity kinematic factors associated with transition step clearance and foot placement in young women and older women with and without a fall history.
      Forty-five female participants (15 per group) completed trials that consisted of walking barefoot along a raised walkway at a self-selected speed, descending a 17 cm step, and continued level ground walking. Variables of interest included lead and trail limb minimum step clearance and foot placement, and bilateral lower extremity joint positions at step clearance and at lead foot initial contact.
      Significant group differences, with large effect sizes, were found in lead foot placement and knee flexion position at initial contact. Both older groups landed more closely to the step and made initial contact with the lead knee in a more flexed position compared to the young group.
      The kinematic differences may be a strategy utilized by older adults to create an early landing to minimize time in single limb stance and compensate for age-related loss of lower extremity strength, range of motion, and/or balance. However, the greater knee flexion may also increase the risk a fall due to lead limb collapse.


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