Fingertip touch improves postural stability in patients with peripheral neuropathy

Ruth Dickstein, Charlotte L. Shupert, Fay B. Horak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

139 Scopus citations


The purpose of this work was to determine whether fingertip touch on a stable surface could improve postural stability during stance in subjects with somatosensory loss in the feet from diabetic peripheral neuropathy. The contribution of fingertip touch to postural stability was determined by comparing postural sway in three touch conditions (light, heavy and none) in eight patients and eight healthy control subjects who stood on two surfaces (firm or foam) with eyes open or closed. In the light touch condition, fingertip touch provided only somatosensory information because subjects exerted less than 1 N of force with their fingertip to a force plate, mounted on a vertical support. In the heavy touch condition, mechanical support was available because subjects transmitted as much force to the force plate as they wished. In the no touch condition, subjects held the right forefinger above the force plate. Antero-posterior (AP) and medio-lateral (ML) root mean square (RMS) of center of pressure (CoP) sway and trunk velocity were larger in subjects with somatosensory loss than in control subjects, especially when standing on the foam surface. The effects of light and heavy touch were similar in the somatosensory loss and control groups. Fingertip somatosensory input through light touch attenuated both AP and ML trunk velocity as much as heavy touch. Light touch also reduced CoP sway compared to no touch, although the decrease in CoP sway was less effective than with heavy touch, particularly on the foam surface. The forces that were applied to the touch plate during light touch preceded movements of the CoP, lending support to the suggestion of a feedforward mechanism in which fingertip inputs trigger the activation of postural muscles for controlling body sway. These results have clinical implications for understanding how patients with peripheral neuropathy may benefit from a cane for postural stability in stance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)238-247
Number of pages10
JournalGait and Posture
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2001


  • Light touch
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Postural stability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Rehabilitation


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