Stability of the head: Studies in normal subjects and in patients with labyrinthine disease, head tremor, and dystonia


  • Dr. Michael Gresty

    Corresponding author
    1. M.R.C. Neuro-Otology Unit, National Hospital for Nervous Diseases, London, UK
    • M.R.C. Neuro-otology Unit, National Hospital for Nervous Diseases, Queen Square, London WC1N 3BG, UK
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The dynamics of postural control of the head were investigated in normal human subjects and patients with neurological disease. The technique adopted was to measure the head movements provoked by passive, unpredictable oscillations of the trunk in the frequency range 0–6–7 Hz when subjects were required (a) to try to stabilise their head “in space” and (b) to try to make their heads move “en bloc” with the trunk. Head movement responses were characterised by the gain and phase with respect to trunk movement (transfer function) and degree of linear relationship between head and trunk (coherence). The normal transfer function approximated a cascade of two secondorder, underdamped, systems representing the passive inertial, viscous, and elastic properties of the muscle and joints of the head and neck. Stabilisation of the head “in space” produced about 40% reduction in transmission of body movement, was only evident at frequencies <1 Hz and was affected partly by voluntary movements. An alabyrinthine patient could also achieve some spatial stabilisation. The findings indicate a weak role for vestibular-collic reflexes and emphasise that the primary control of head posture during unpredictable movement is through the tonic visco-elastic properties of neck muscles that work to stabilise the head on the shoulders. In patients with dystonia of the nekc and essential and cerebellar head tremor, the dystonia could be measured in terms of visco-elastic constants and damping ratios. The head movement of some tremor patients did not linearly follow the trunk movement, showing that the motion stimulus provoked abnormal phasic muscle activity at frequencies other than those of the tremor. The technique quantifies head control in movement disorders and is sensitive to abnormal function.