Slips and falls are a serious public health concern in older populations. Reduced muscle strength is associated with increased age and fall incidence. Understanding the relationships between specific joint muscle strength characteristics and propensity to slip is important to identify biomechanical factors responsible for slip-initiated falls and to improve slip/fall prevention programs. Knee corrective moments generated during slipping assist in balance recovery. Therefore, the study goal was to investigate the relationship between knee flexion/extension strength and slip severity. Isometric knee flexion/extension peak torque and rate of torque development (RTD) of the slipping leg were measured in 29 young and 28 older healthy subjects. Motion data were collected for an unexpected slip during self-paced walking. Peak slip velocity (PSV) of the slipping heel served as a slip severity measure. Within-sex and age group regressions relating gait speed-controlled PSV to strength of the slipping leg revealed significant inverse PSV-knee extension peak torque and PSV-knee flexion/extension RTD relationships in young males only. Differences in PSV-strength relationships between sex and age groups may be caused by greater ranges of strength capabilities in young males. In conclusion, the ability to generate higher, more rapid knee flexion/extension muscle moments (greater peak torque/RTD) may assist in recovery from severe slips.
The authors are with the Human Movement and Balance Laboratory, Department of Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA.