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Changes in balance and joint position sense during a 12-day high altitude trek: The British Services Dhaulagiri medical research expedition

By S.B. Clarke, K. Deighton, C. Newman, G. Nicholson, L. Gallagher, Christopher Boos, A. Mellor, D.R. Woods and J.P. O Hara


© 2018 Clarke et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. Postural control and joint position sense are essential for safely undertaking leisure and professional activities, particularly at high altitude. We tested whether exposure to a 12-day trek with a gradual ascent to high altitude impairs postural control and joint position sense. This was a repeated measures observational study of 12 military service personnel (28±4 years). Postural control (sway velocity measured by a portable force platform) during standing balance, a Sharpened Romberg Test and knee joint position sense were measured, in England (113m elevation) and at 3 research camps (3619m, 4600m and 5140m) on a 12-day high altitude trek in the Dhaulagiri region of Nepal. Pulse oximetry, and Lake Louise scores were also recorded on the morning and evening of each trek day. Data were compared between altitudes and relationships between pulse oximetry, Lake Louise score, and sway velocity were explored. Total sway velocity during standing balance with eyes open (p = 0.003, d = 1.9) and during Sharpened Romberg test with eyes open (p = 0.007, d = 1.6) was significantly greater at altitudes of 3619m and 5140m when compared with sea level. Anterior-posterior sway velocity during standing balance with eyes open was also significantly greater at altitudes of 3619m and 5140m when compared with sea level (p = 0.001, d = 1.9). Knee joint position sense was not altered at higher altitudes. There were no significant correlations between Lake Louise scores, pulse oximetry and postural sway. Despite a gradual ascent profile, exposure to 3619 m was associated with impairments in postural control without impairment in knee joint position sense. Importantly, these impairments did not worsen at higher altitudes of 4600 m or 5140 m. The present findings should be considered during future trekking expeditions when developing training strategies targeted to manage impairments in postural control that occur with increasing altitude

Year: 2018
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