Postural perturbations: New insights for treatment of balance disorders

Fay B. Horak, Sharon M. Henry, Anne Shumway-Cook

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

408 Scopus citations


This article reviews the neural control of posture as understood through studies of automatic responses to mechanical perturbations. Recent studies of responses to postural perturbations have provided a new view of how postural stability is controlled, and this view has profound implications for physical therapy practice. We discuss the implications for rehabilitation of balance disorders and demonstrate how an understanding of the specific systems underlying postural control can help to focus and enrich our therapeutic approaches. By understanding the basic systems underlying control of balance, such as strategy selection, rapid latencies, coordinated temporal spatial patterns, force control, and context-specific adaptations, therapists can focus their treatment on each patient's specific impairments. Research on postural responses to surface translations has shown that balance is not based on a fixed set of equilibrium reflexes but on a flexible, functional motor skill that can adapt with training and experience. More research is needed to determine the extent to which quantification of automatic postural responses has practical implications for predicting falls in patients with constraints in their postural control system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)517-533
Number of pages17
JournalPhysical therapy
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Balance
  • Electromyography
  • Neurology
  • Posture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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