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Stephen M. Glass, Christopher K. Rhea, Matthew W. Wittstein, Scott E. Ross, John P. Florian and F.J. Haran

Transitioning between different sensory environments is known to affect sensorimotor function and postural control. Water immersion presents a novel environmental stimulus common to many professional and recreational pursuits, but is not well-studied with regard to its sensorimotor effects upon transitioning back to land. The authors investigated the effects of long-duration water immersion on terrestrial postural control outcomes in veteran divers. Eleven healthy men completed a 6-hour thermoneutral pool dive (4.57 m) breathing diver air. Center of pressure was observed before and 15 minutes after the dive under 4 conditions: (1) eyes open/stable surface (Open-Stable); (2) eyes open/foam surface (Open-Foam); (3) eyes closed/stable surface (Closed-Stable); and (4) eyes closed/foam surface (Closed-Foam). Postdive decreases in postural sway were observed in all testing conditions except for Open-Stable. The specific pattern of center of pressure changes in the postdive window is consistent with (1) a stiffening/overregulation of the ankle strategy during Open-Foam, Closed-Stable, and Closed-Foam or (2) acute upweighting of vestibular input along with downweighting of somatosensory, proprioceptive, and visual inputs. Thus, our findings suggest that postimmersion decreases in postural sway may have been driven by changes in weighting of sensory inputs and associated changes in balance strategy following adaptation to the aquatic environment.