Current research in biology and physiology has unequivocally demonstrated the significance of variability for the optimal functioning of healthy and adaptable systems. Different pathologies are characterized by reductions in complexity of organization, often signified by loss of variability and adaptability. It is argued that the traditional perspective on biology in general and movement science in particular that tended to associate noise and variability with performance decrements and pathology is no longer tenable. Tools and methodologies that have emerged from the dynamical systems perspective to coordination and control are discussed in the context of postural control and transitions in interlimb coordination and locomotion. First, it is shown that variability can play a functional role in the detection and exploration of stability boundaries during balance control. Second, pattern transitions are characterized by increased variability in movement coordination dynamics. Under conditions of movement pathologies, such as in Parkinson’s disease, reductions in variability in coordination dynamics clearly identify movement coordination and transition problems so characteristic for these patients. It is concluded that the relation between variability and stability is complex and that variability cannot be equated with instability without knowledge of the underlying movement dynamics.
Richard E.A. van Emmerik and Erwin E.H. van Wegen
Erwin E.H. van Wegen, Richard E.A. van Emmerik, Robert C. Wagenaar and Terry Ellis
Postural instability is a major problem in patients with Parkinson's disease (PD). We examined balance control in PD by using center of pressure (CP) variability and time-to-contact to investigate boundary relevant postural control behavior under quiet stance leaning conditions. Postural orientation was manipulated by having patients (n = 10) and healthy older controls (n = 7)lean Forward and backward with varying degrees of lean on a force platform. The subjects were instructed to lean forward or backward (either halfway or as far as possible) without bending their hips or lifting their heels or toes off the ground. Time-to-contact of the CP with the geometric stability boundary defined by the feet as well as CP position and variability were analyzed. Mediolateral CP variability was increased in the patients with PD. Medio-lateral average time-to-contact was decreased in the patients but not so in the antcrior-posterior direction. In contrast to the CP variability, the medio-lateral variability of time-lo-contact was lower in the patients. Patients as well as healthy older controls responded to lean manipulations with an increase in CP variability. Boundary relevant CP measures thus show clear changes in control strategies and confirm the role of lateral instability in PD.