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Using Tri-Axial Accelerometers to Assess the Dynamic Control of Head Posture During GaitLong duration spaceflight is known to cause a variety of biomedical stressors to the astronaut. One of the more functionally destabilizing effects of spaceflight involves microgravity-induced changes in vestibular or balance control. Balance control requires the integration of the vestibular, visual, and proprioceptive systems. In the microgravity environment, the normal gravity vector present on Earth no longer serves as a reference for the balance control system. Therefore, adaptive changes occur to the vestibular system to affect control of body orientation with altered, or non-present, gravity and/or proprioceptive inputs. Upon return to a gravity environment, the vestibular system must re-incorporate the gravity vector and gravity-induced proprioceptive inputs into the balance control regime. The result is often a period of postural instability, which may also be associated with space motion sickness (oscillopsia, nausea, and vertigo). Previous studies by the JSC Neuroscience group have found that returning astronauts often employ alterations in gait mechanics to maintain postural control during gait. It is believed that these gait alterations are meant to decrease the transfer of heel strike shock energy to the head, thus limiting the contradictory head and eye movements that lead to gait instability and motion sickness symptoms. We analyzed pre- and post-spaceflight tri-axial accelerometer data from the NASA/MIR long duration spaceflight missions to assess the heel to head transfer of heel strike shock energy during locomotion. Up to seven gait sessions (three preflight, four postflight) of head and shank (lower leg) accelerometer data was previously collected from six astronauts who engaged in space flights of four to six months duration. In our analysis, the heel to head transmission of shock energy was compared using peak vertical acceleration (a), peak jerk (j) ratio, and relative kinetic energy (a). A host of generalized movement variables was produced in an effort to isolate those that best highlighted vestibular adaptation due to spaceflight. Data suggest that astronauts used either head or body centered control to reduce the effects of heel strike shock on head position during normal walking at self-selected speeds. Moreover, the form of that control appears to fall under one of two categories: homeostatic or adaptive. Homeostatic control refers to tight constraint (small error) over the value of a given variable before and after spaceflight with little or no adaptive changes. Adaptive control refers to lesser constraint over a given movement variable with clear adaptation to earth gravity upon return from spaceflight. Heel strike shock absorption (ratio of heel to head peak acceleration) best-discriminated head and body centered control strategies. Further, peak jerk data was useful for illustrating pre- and postflight differences in segmental (shank versus head) movement energy. Results from kinetic energy analysis show high consistency between subjects and across test dates. Whether this result highlights a control strategy or is an artifact of approximating body segments using anthropometric tables is, at this point, unclear.
Document ID
Document Type
Lawrence, John H., III
(Kentucky Univ. Lexington, KY, United States)
Date Acquired
September 7, 2013
Publication Date
March 1, 2003
Publication Information
Publication: National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)/American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) Summer Faculty Fellowship Program - 2000
Subject Category
Aerospace Medicine
Funding Number(s)
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.
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