, Volume 124, Issue 4, pp 481-488

Are automatic postural responses in patients with Parkinson’s disease abnormal due to their stooped posture?

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 Abnormal automatic postural responses are thought to contribute to balance impairment in Parkinson’s disease. However, because postural responses are modifiable by stance, we have speculated that some postural abnormalities in patients with Parkinson’s disease are secondary to their stooped stance. We have studied this assumption by assessing automatic postural responses in 30 healthy subjects who were instructed either to stand upright or to assume a typical parkinsonian posture. During both conditions, subjects received 20 serial 4°’toe-up’ rotational perturbations from a supporting forceplate. We recorded short-latency (SL) and medium-latency (ML) responses from stretched gastrocnemius muscles and long-latency (LL) responses from shortened tibialis anterior muscles. We also assessed changes in the center of foot pressure (CFP) and the center of gravity (COG). The results were qualitatively compared to a previously described group of patients with Parkinson’s disease who, under these circumstances, typically have large ML responses, small LL responses and insufficient voluntary postural corrections, accompanied by a slow rate of backward CFP displacement and an increased posterior COG displacement. The stooped posture resulted in unloading of medial gastrocnemius muscles and loading of tibialis anterior muscles. Onset latencies of stretch responses in gastrocnemius muscles were delayed in stooped subjects, but the onset of LL responses was markedly reduced. Amplitudes of both ML and LL responses were reduced in stooped subjects. Prestimulus COG and, to a lesser extent, CFP were shifted forwards in stooped subjects. Posterior COG displacement and the rate of backward CFP displacement were diminished in stooped subjects. Voluntary postural corrections were unchanged while standing stooped. These results indicate that some postural abnormalities of patients with Parkinson’s disease (most notably the reduced LL responses) can be reproduced in healthy subjects mimicking a stooped parkinsonian posture. Other postural abnormalities (most notably the increased ML responses and insufficient voluntary responses) did not appear in stooped controls and may contribute to balance impairment in Parkinson’s disease.

Received: 16 February 1998 / Accepted: 24 August 1998