Haptic touch reduces sway by increasing axial tone

E. Franzén, V. S. Gurfinkel, W. G. Wright, Paul Cordo, F. B. Horak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


It is unclear how haptic touch with a stable surface reduces postural sway. We hypothesized that haptic input enhances postural stability due to alterations in axial postural tone. We measured the influence of heavy and light touch (LT) of the hands on a stable bar on axial postural tone and postural sway during stance in 14 healthy adults. A unique "Twister" device measured hip torque by fixing the upper body in space while oscillating the surface in yaw ±10 at 1 deg/s. Subjects were tested while: (1) standing quietly with their arms at their sides, (2) lightly touching a rigid bar in front of them and (3) firmly gripping the bar. Horizontal and vertical sway was not restricted by the device's yaw fixation, therefore, the subjects remained in a state of active postural control during the three touch conditions. Haptic touch significantly increased hip postural tone by 44% during light touch, from 2.5±0.9 to 3.6±1.0 Nm (P=0.005), and by 40% during firm grip to 3.5±0.8 Nm (P=0.005). Increases in hip postural tone were associated with a reduction in postural sway (r=-0.55, P=0.001). This is the first study showing that axial postural tone can be modified by remote somatosensory input and provides a potential explanation for how light touch improves postural stability. Changes in subjects' perception from trunk to surface rotation when changing from no touch (NT) to haptic touch, suggests that the CNS changes from using a global, to a local, trunk reference frame for control of posture during touch. The increase of hip postural tone during touching and gripping can be explained as a suppression of hip muscle shortening reactions that normally assist axial rotation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)216-223
Number of pages8
StatePublished - Feb 3 2011


  • Center of pressure
  • Light touch
  • Postural stability
  • Postural tone
  • Stance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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