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Walking on ballast impacts balance

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Railroad workers often perform daily work activities on irregular surfaces, specifically on ballast rock. Previous research and injury epidemiology have suggested a relationship between working on irregular surfaces and postural instability. The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of walking on ballast for an extended duration on standing balance. A total of 16 healthy adult males walked on a 7.62 m ×  4.57 m (25 ft ×  15 ft) walking surface of no ballast (NB) or covered with ballast (B) of an average rock size of about 1 inch for 4 h. Balance was evaluated using dynamic posturography with the NeuroCom® Equitest System prior to experiencing the NB or B surface and again every 30 min during the 4 h of ballast exposure. Dependent variables were the sway velocity and root-mean-square (RMS) sway components in the medial–lateral and anterior–posterior directions. Repeated measures ANOVA revealed statistically significant differences in RMS and sway velocity between ballast surface conditions and across exposure times. Overall, the ballast surface condition induced greater sway in all of the dynamic posturography conditions. Walking on irregular surfaces for extended durations has a deleterious effect on balance compared to walking on a surface without ballast. These findings of changes in balance during ballast exposure suggest that working on an irregular surface may impact postural control.
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Keywords: ballast; gait analysis; irregular terrain; kinetics; railroad

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, Auburn University, Auburn, AL, USA 2: Department of Health, Exercise Science, and Recreation Management, University of Mississippi, Oxford, MS, USA 3: Department of Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA 4: Ergonomic Engineering Inc., Pelham, MA, USA

Publication date: January 2, 2014

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