A new interpretation of spontaneous sway measures based on a simple model of human postural control

Christoph Maurer, Robert J. Peterka

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

362 Scopus citations


This study shows that center-of-pressure (COP) traces that closely resemble physiologically measured COP functions can be produced by an appropriate selection of model parameters in a simple feedback model of the human postural control system. Variations in the values of stiffness, damping, time delay, and noise level determine the values of 15 sway measures commonly used to characterize spontaneous sway. Results from model simulations indicate that there is a high degree of correlation among these sway measures, and the measures cluster into three different groups. Only two principal components accounted for about 92% of the variation among the different sway measures analyzed. This model can be used to formulate hypotheses regarding the cause of postural control deficits reported in the literature. This is accomplished using a multidimensional optimization procedure to estimate model parameters from a diverse set of spontaneous sway measures. These model parameters describe physiologically meaningful features of the postural control system as opposed to conventional sway measures that provide only a parametric description of sway. To show the application of this method, we applied it to published data of spontaneous sway from elderly subjects and contrasted it to the data of young healthy subjects. We found that modest increases in stiffness and damping and a fairly large increase in noise level with aging could account for the variety of sway measures reported in the literature for elderly subjects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)189-200
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Physiology


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