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Impact of joint torques on heel acceleration at heel contact, a contributor to slips and falls

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Slips/falls are a health burden in the workplace. Previous research has implied a relationship between foot dynamics at heel contact and slips/falls; however, heel acceleration has received little attention. Heel acceleration as the heel contacts the ground is the result of the combined effort of the leg joint torques to control motion of the foot. This study aims to examine the association of heel acceleration with fall risk, and explore the main joint torque determinant of heel acceleration at contact. Sixteen young and eleven older adults walked on known dry floors and in slippery environments expected to be dry. Heel acceleration at heel contact in the direction of motion, i.e. anterior/posterior, was compared between slip-recovery and slip-fall outcomes. Results showed that subjects that recovered contacted the floor with a greater heel deceleration (p < 0.05) than fall subjects. Knee torque alone explained 76% of the heel acceleration variability (p < 0.01). These data suggest that walking with reduced knee flexion torque at heel contact results in a reduced heel deceleration, a potential risk factor for slip-initiated falls.
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Keywords: falls; gait; heel dynamics; joint torque; slips

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA

Publication date: December 1, 2008

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