Balance Asymmetry in Parkinson's Disease and Its Contribution to Freezing of Gait

Tjitske A. Boonstra*, Jeroen P.P. van Vugt, Herman van der Kooij, Bastiaan R. Bloem

*Corresponding author for this work

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Balance control (the ability to maintain an upright posture) is asymmetrically controlled in a proportion of patients with Parkinson’s disease. Gait asymmetries have been linked to the pathophysiology of freezing of gait. We speculate that asymmetries in balance could contribute to freezing by a) hampering the unloading of the stepping leg and/or b) leading to a preferred stance leg during gait, which then results in asymmetric gait. To investigate this, we examined the relationship between balance control and weight-bearing asymmetries and freezing. We included 20 human patients with Parkinson (tested OFF medication; nine freezers) and nine healthy controls. Balance was perturbed in the sagittal plane, using continuous multi-sine perturbations, applied by a motion platform and by a force at the sacrum. Applying closed-loop system identification techniques, relating the body sway angle to the joint torques of each leg separately, determined the relative contribution of each ankle and hip joint to the total amount of joint torque. We also calculated weight-bearing asymmetries. We determined the 99-percent confidence interval of weight-bearing and balance-control asymmetry using the responses of the healthy controls. Freezers did not have larger asymmetries in weight bearing (p = 0.85) nor more asymmetrical balance control compared to non-freezers (p = 0.25). The healthy linear one-to-one relationship between weight bearing and balance control was significantly different for freezers and non-freezers (p = 0.01). Specifically, non-freezers had a significant relationship between weight bearing and balance control (p = 0.02), whereas this relation was not significant for freezers (p = 0.15). Balance control is asymmetrical in most patients (about 75 percent) with Parkinson’s disease, but this asymmetry is not related to freezing. The relationship between weight bearing and balance control seems to be less pronounced in freezers, compared to healthy controls and non-freezers. However, this relationship should be investigated further in larger groups of patients.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere102493
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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