Changes in balance coordination and transfer to an unlearned balance task after slackline training: a self-organizing map analysis

Serrien, Ben ; Hohenauer, Erich ; Clijsen, Ron ; Taube, Wolfgang ; Baeyens, Jean-Pierre ; Küng, Ursula

In: Experimental Brain Research, 2017, vol. 235, no. 11, p. 3427–3436

How humans maintain balance and change postural control due to age, injury, immobility or training is one of the basic questions in motor control. One of the problems in understanding postural control is the large set of degrees of freedom in the human motor system. Therefore, a self-organizing map (SOM), a type of artificial neural network, was used in the present study to extract and... More

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    Summary
    How humans maintain balance and change postural control due to age, injury, immobility or training is one of the basic questions in motor control. One of the problems in understanding postural control is the large set of degrees of freedom in the human motor system. Therefore, a self-organizing map (SOM), a type of artificial neural network, was used in the present study to extract and visualize information about high-dimensional balance strategies before and after a 6-week slackline training intervention. Thirteen subjects performed a flamingo and slackline balance task before and after the training while full body kinematics were measured. Range of motion, velocity and frequency of the center of mass and joint angles from the pelvis, trunk and lower leg (45 variables) were calculated and subsequently analyzed with an SOM. Subjects increased their standing time significantly on the flamingo (average +2.93 s, Cohen’s d = 1.04) and slackline (+9.55 s, d = 3.28) tasks, but the effect size was more than three times larger in the slackline. The SOM analysis, followed by a k- means clustering and marginal homogeneity test, showed that the balance coordination pattern was significantly different between pre- and post-test for the slackline task only (χ2 = 82.247; p 0.001). The shift in balance coordination on the slackline could be characterized by an increase in range of motion and a decrease in velocity and frequency in nearly all degrees of freedom simultaneously. The observation of low transfer of coordination strategies to the flamingo task adds further evidence for the task-specificity principle of balance training, meaning that slackline training alone will be insufficient to increase postural control in other challenging situations.