Contact of the hand with a stationary surface attenuates postural sway in normal individuals even when the level of force applied is mechanically inadequate to dampen body motion. We studied whether subjects without vestibular function would be able to substitute contact cues from the hand for their lost labyrinthine function and be able to balance as well as normal subjects in the dark without finger contact. We also studied the relative contribution of sight of the test chamber to the two groups. Subjects attempted to maintain a tandem Romberg stance for 25 s under three levels of fingertip contact: no contact; light-touch contact, up to 1 N (≃ 100 g) force; and unrestricted contact force. Both eyes open and eyes closed conditions were evaluated. Without contact, none of the vestibular loss subjects could stand for more than a few seconds in the dark without falling; all the normals could. The vestibular loss subjects were significantly more stable in the dark with light touch of the index finger than the normal subjects in the dark without touch. They also swayed less in the dark with light touch than when permitted sight of the test chamber without touch, and less with sight and touch than just sight. The normal subjects swayed less in the dark with touch than without, and less with sight and touch than sight alone. These findings show that during quiet stance light touch of the index finger with a stationary surface can be as effective or even more so than vestibular function for minimizing postural sway.
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