Sensorimotor manipulations of the balance control loop-beyond imposed external perturbations

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Standing balance relies on the integration of multiple sensory inputs to generate the motor commands required to stand. Mechanical and sensory perturbations elicit compensatory postural responses that are interpreted as a window into the sensorimotor processing involved in balance control. Popular methods involve imposed external perturbations that disrupt the control of quiet stance. Although these approaches provide critical information on how the balance system responds to external disturbances, the control mechanisms involved in correcting for these errors may differ from those responsible for the regulation of quiet standing. Alternative approaches use manipulations of the balance control loop to alter the relationship between sensory and motor cues. Coupled with imposed perturbations, these manipulations of the balance control loop provide unique opportunities to reveal how sensory and motor signals are integrated to control the upright body. In this review, we first explore imposed perturbation approaches that have been used to investigate the neural control of standing balance. We emphasize imposed perturbations that only elicit balance responses when the disturbing stimuli are relevant to the balance task. Next, we highlight manipulations of the balance control loop that, when carefully implemented, replicate and/or alter the sensorimotor dynamics of quiet standing. We further describe how manipulations of the balance control loop can be used in combination with imposed perturbations to characterize mechanistic principles underlying the control of standing balance. We propose that recent developments in the use of robotics and sensory manipulations will continue to enable new possibilities for simulating and/or altering the sensorimotor control of standing beyond compensatory responses to imposed external perturbations.