Human bipedal gait is inherently unstable, and staying upright requires adaptive control of dynamic balance. Little is known about adaptive control of dynamic balance in reaction to long-term, continuous perturbations. We examined how dynamic balance control adapts to a continuous perturbation in gait, by letting people walk faster with one leg than the other on a treadmill with two belts (i.e. split-belt walking). In addition, we assessed whether changes in mediolateral dynamic balance control coincide with changes in energy use during split-belt adaptation. In 9 min of split-belt gait, mediolateral margins of stability and mediolateral foot roll-off changed during adaptation to the imposed gait asymmetry, especially on the fast side, and returned to baseline during washout. Interestingly, no changes in mediolateral foot placement (i.e. step width) were found during split-belt adaptation. Furthermore, the initial margin of stability and subsequent mediolateral foot roll-off were strongly coupled to maintain mediolateral dynamic balance throughout the gait cycle. Consistent with previous results, net metabolic power was reduced during split-belt adaptation, but changes in mediolateral dynamic balance control were not correlated with the reduction of net metabolic power during split-belt adaptation. Overall, this study has shown that a complementary mechanism of relative foot positioning and mediolateral foot roll-off adapts to continuously imposed gait asymmetry to maintain dynamic balance in human bipedal gait.
Tom J. W. Buurke, Claudine J. C. Lamoth, Danique Vervoort, Lucas H. V. van der Woude, and Rob den Otter