Case studies in neuroscience: a dissociation of balance and posture demonstrated by camptocormia

R. J. St George, V. S. Gurfinkel, J. Kraakevik, J. G. Nutt, F. B. Horak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Up-right stance in humans requires an intricate exchange between the neural mechanisms that control balance and those that control posture; however, the distinction between these control systems is hard to discern in healthy subjects. By studying balance and postural control of a participant with camptocormia — an involuntary flexion of the trunk during standing that resolves when supine — a divergence between balance and postural control was revealed. A kinematic and kinetic investigation of standing and walking showed a stereotyped flexion of the upper body by almost 80° over a few minutes, and yet the participant’s ability to control center of mass within the base of support and to compensate for external perturbations remained intact. This unique case also revealed the involvement of automatic, tonic control of the paraspinal muscles during standing and the effects of attention. Although strength was reduced and MRI showed a reduction in muscle mass, there was sufficient strength to maintain an upright posture under voluntary control and when using geste antago-niste maneuvers or “sensory tricks” from visual, auditory, and haptic biofeedback. Dual tasks that either increased or decreased the attention given to postural alignment would decrease or increase the postural flexion, respectively. The custom-made “twister” device that measured axial resistance to slow passive rotation revealed abnormalities in axial muscle tone distribution during standing. The results suggest that the disorder in this case was due to a disruption in the automatic, tonic drive to the postural muscles and that myogenic changes were secondary. NEW & NOTEWORTHY By studying an idiopathic camptocormia case with a detailed biomechanical and sensorimotor approach, we have demonstrated unique insights into the neural control of human bipedalism 1) balance and postural control cannot be considered the same neural process, as there is a stereotyped abnormal flexed posture, without balance deficits, associated with camptocormia, and 2) posture during standing is controlled by automatic axial tone but “sensory tricks” involving sensory biofeedback to direct voluntary attention to postural alignment can override, when required.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)33-38
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2018


  • Axial tone
  • Balance
  • Camptocormia
  • Posture
  • Standing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Physiology


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