Effects of free versus restricted arm movements on postural control in normal and modified sensory conditions in young and older adults

Ellie Johnson, Toby Ellmers, Thomas Muehlbauer, Stephen Lord, Mathew Hill

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The purpose of this study was to explore the effects of arm movements on postural control when standing under different sensory conditions in healthy young and older adults. Fifteen young (mean ± SD age; 21.3 ± 4.2 years) and 15 older (mean ± SD age; 73.3 ± 5.0 years) adults completed the modified Romberg test, which uses four task manipulations (i.e. eyes open and eyes closed on a firm and foam surface) to compromise the fidelity of sensory feedback mechanisms. Each participant completed the tasks under two arm movement conditions: restricted and free arm movements. Centre of pressure (COP) range and frequency were calculated to characterise postural performance and strategy, respectively. Older adults showed greater COP range with restricted compared to free arm movements during all modified sensory conditions, with these effects most prominent in the medio-lateral (ML) plane (all p < .05, Cohen's d = 0.69–1.61). Compared to the free arm movement condition, there was an increase in ML displacement and frequency when arm movements were restricted during only the most challenging (i.e. vestibular dominant) task in young adults (all p < .05, d = 0.645–0.83). Finally, main age effects for the arm restriction cost (p < .05) indicates a greater reliance on an upper body strategy in older compared to young adults, independent of sensory availability/accuracy. These findings indicate that older adults compensate for the loss of accuracy in sensory input by increasing reliance on upper body movement strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number112338
Number of pages9
JournalExperimental Gerontology
Early online date30 Nov 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2023

Bibliographical note

©2023TheAuthor(s).Published by Elsevier Inc.This is an open access article under the CCBY license(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).


  • Age
  • Arm movements
  • Postural strategy
  • Postural sway
  • Task difficulty
  • Upper limbs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Endocrinology
  • Ageing
  • Molecular Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology


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