Falls are a common and potentially dangerous event, especially in amputees. In this study, we compared the mechanisms of balance recovery of 17 unilateral transtibial amputees and 17 matched able-bodied controls after being released from a forward-inclined orientation of 10%. Kinematic analysis revealed statistically significant differences in response time and knee flexion at heel-strike between both groups. However, there were no statistically significant differences in step length of the leading and trailing limb, swing time of the leading limb, and maximal knee flexion during swing.
In the amputees, we found spatial and temporal differences when recovering with the sound versus prosthetic limb first. When leading with the prosthetic limb, they responded faster and also the interval between heel-strike of the leading and trailing limb was shorter. Furthermore, amputees made a longer step and showed less knee flexion at heel-strike when leading with the prosthetic limb. Interestingly, amputees as a group had no specific limb preference, prosthetic or sound, to recover after a forward fall, despite the asymmetry in their locomotor system. Analyses of dynamic stability (extrapolated center of mass) revealed that the amputees were equally efficient in recovering from an impending fall as controls, irrespective whether they lead with their prosthetic or sound limb. We suggest that in amputee rehabilitation, balance recovery after a fall should be trained with both sides, as this can increase confidence in fall-prone situations. (C) 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.