A new conceptual and theoretical framework for studying the human postural control system is introduced. Mathematical techniques from statistical mechanics are developed and applied to the analysis and interpretation of stabilograms. This work was based on the assumption that the act of maintaining an erect posture could be viewed, in part, as a stochastic process. Twenty-five healthy young subjects were studied under quiet-standing conditions. Center-of-pressure (COP) trajectories were analyzed as one-dimensional and two dimensional random walks. This novel approach led to the extraction of repeatable, physiologically meaningful parameters from stabilograms. It is shown that although individual stabilograms for a single subject were highly variable and random in appearance, a consistent, subject-specific pattern emerged with the generation of averaged stabilogram-diffusion plots (mean square COP displacement vs time interval). In addition, significant inter-subject differences were found in the calculated results. This suggests that the steady-state behavior of the control mechanisms involved in maintaining erect posture can be quite variable even amongst a population of age-matched, anthropometrically similar, healthy individuals. These posturographic analyses also demonstrated that COP trajectories could be modelled as fractional Brownian motion and that at least two control systems — a shortterm mechanism and a long-term mechanism — were operating during quiet standing. More specifically, the present results suggest that over short-term intervals open-loop control schemes are utilized by the postural control system, whereas over long-term intervals closed-loop control mechanisms are called into play. This work strongly supports the position that much can be learned about the functional organization of the postural control system by studying the steady-state behavior of the human body during periods of undisturbed stance.
Postural control Open-loop control Closed-loop control Random walk Human