Previous research suggests that postural sway in standing increases in virtual reality (VR) environments. This study was conducted to examine whether gait instability is prevalent when people walk in a VR environment. Ten healthy adults participated in the study. Subjects walked on a treadmill in a VR environment and a non-VR environment at each of three walking speeds: 0.9, 1.1, and 1.3 m/s. In the VR environment, an endless corridor with colored vertical stripes comprising the walls was projected onto a hemispherical screen placed in front of the treadmill. The speed of the moving corridor image was matched to the speed of the treadmill to create the illusion that subjects were walking through the endless corridor. Spatiotemporal data during gait were collected with an instrumented treadmill housing two piezoelectric force platforms. Gait parameters reflective of gait instability (stride length, step width, variability in stride velocity, and variability in step width) were compared between the VR and non-VR environments. Subjects walked in the VR environment with reduced stride lengths (p = 0.001), increased step widths (p = 0.001), and with increased variability in stride velocity (p < 0.001) and step width (p = 0.002). The gait deviations suggest that walking in a VR environment may induce gait instability in healthy subjects. © 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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