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The organization of human postural movements: A formal basis and experimental synthesis

  • Lewis M. Nashner (a1) and Gin McCollum (a1)


A scheme for understanding the organization of human postural movements is developed in the format of a position paper. The structural characteristics of the body and the geometry of muscular actions are incorporated into a three-dimensional graphical representation of human movement mechanics in the sagittal plane. A series of neural organizational hypotheses limit a theoretically infinite number of combinations of muscle contractions and associated movement trajectories for performing postural corrections: (1) Controls are organized to use the minimum number of muscles; (2) frequently performed movements are organized to require a minimum of neural decision-making.

These hypotheses lead to the prediction that postural movements are composed of muscle contractile strategies derived from a limited set of distinct contractile patterns. The imposition of two mechanical constraints related to the configuration of support and to requirements for body stability with respect to gravity predict the conditions under which individual movement strategies will be deployed.

A complementary organizational scheme for the senses is developed. We show that organization of postural movements into combinations of distinct strategies simplifies the interpretation of sensory inputs. The fine-tuning of movement strategies can be accomplished by breaking down the complex array of feedback information into a series of scalar quantities related to the parameters of the movement strategies. For example, the magnitude, aim, and curvature of the movement trajectory generated by an individual strategy can be adjusted independently.

The second half of the report compares theoretical predictions with a series of actual experimental observations on normal subjects and patients with known sensory and motor disorders. Actual postural movements conform to theoretical predictions about the composition of individual movement strategies and the conditions under which each strategy is used. Observations on patients suggest how breakdowns in individual steps within the logical process of organization can lead to specific movement abnormalities.

Discussion focuses on the areas needing further experimentation and on the implications of the proposed organizational scheme. We conclude that although our organizational scheme is not new in demonstrating the need for simplifying the neural control of movement, it is perhaps original in imposing discrete logical control upon a continuous mechanical system. The attraction of the scheme is that it provides a framework compatible with both mechanical and physiological information and amenable to experimental testing.



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Behavioral and Brain Sciences
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  • EISSN: 1469-1825
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