How stepping over an obstacle can influence your balance

How stepping over an obstacle can influence your balance

A closer look at the balance and pressure distribution in young adults during obstacle crossing.

Falls are the leading cause and risk of injury, not only for older adults, but also for adolescents and working age adults (Billette & Janz, 2011). Research suggests that the cost of seniors’ falls in Canada is approximately $2 Billion per year, while the total cost of falling has been recorded as high as $6.3 Billion per year (Payne, 2017; SMARTRISK, 2009). Young adults have further been found to account for the largest percentage of hospital room visits due to a fall at 37% (SMARTRISK, 2009).

Researchers have identified obstacle crossing as the leading cause of trips, which have been found to be the leading cause of a fall (Billette & Janz, 2011; Li et al., 2006). Colin wanted to know how stepping over obstacles of varying heights (5 cm, 15 cm, and 25 cm) would influence young adults’ stability (e.g., relationship between centre of mass, base of support, and centre of pressure) and pressure distribution in the foot.

How stepping over an obstacle can influence your balance

The study found that young adults (between the ages of 20-34) increased the pressure distribution within various areas under the foot and overall put more pressure onto their foot when stepping over an obstacle than for regular walking. Pressure was increased under the heel, outer edge of the foot, and toes during obstacle crossing and participants were more cautious for taller obstacles than shorter ones. However, young adults may be more susceptible to tripping on taller obstacles because the distance between their toes and the obstacle was smaller than for the shorter obstacles. Ultimately, coordinating these strategies allowed young adults to maintain their balance when crossing obstacles.

How stepping over an obstacle can influence your balance

Injuries due to falling burden the health care system. Therefore, understanding obstacle crossing strategies may play a vital role in reducing the frequency of falls and fall related injuries. People step over obstacles on a daily basis, so it is an issue that affects people of all ages, not just older adults. Use caution when stepping over obstacles, especially as the height of the object increases.


Billette, J. M., & Janz, T. (2011). Injuries in Canada: Insights from the Canadian Community Health Survey Health at a Glance. (pp. 1-16): Statistics Canada.

Li, W. J., Keegan, T. H. M., Sternfeld, B., Sidney, S., Quesenberry, C. P., & Kelsey, J. L. (2006). Outdoor falls among middle-aged and older adults: A neglected public health problem. American Journal of Public Health, 96(7), 1192-1200. doi:Doi 10.2105/Ajph.2005.083055

Payne, E. (2017, February 17th). The high cost of falling down: Why falls are an overlooked health crisis. Ottawa Citizen.

SMARTRISK. (2009). The economic burden of injury in Canada. Toronto: SMARTRISK.