Research Overview

  1. Postural Control
  2. Motor Learning
  3. Biomechanics in Orthopaedics and Ergonomics
  4. Sports Performance

Postural Control


Postural control describes the dynamics to maintain balance and to position the body with respect to the environment. Hence, postural control is vitally important for most activities of daily living. Furthermore, adequate static and dynamic balance control is an essential prerequisite for many sports. This manifold significance is reflected by epidemiological studies revealing that postural instability is a key risk factor for falls, finally emphasizing the general and socio-economic importance of this issue. In our lab, two main research questions are investigated.

The purpose of the first research question is to investigate if balance has to be treated as a general ability or specific skills. Whereas many textbooks assume that balance skills share an underlying balance ability, recent literature indicates that balance skills are specific and thus uncorrelated. This issue is of great importance not only for scientists but also for practitioners, because of the strong impact on balance training and testing protocols.

In addition, we are interested in the interrelation of the postural control system with the craniomandibular system (CMS). Recent studies have indicated beneficial physiological effects of CMS activities (e.g., concurrent jaw clenching) on the stabilization of human posture. These findings provide the basis for our second research question, in which we try to investigate the underlying mechanisms of this facilitating effect, both under static and dynamic balance conditions.

Selected publications:

Motor Learning

Motor actions are constantly faced with changes in internal and external conditions. For instance, adding a big eraser to the top of a pencil changes its mechanical properties and the handwriting is affected. However, after some lines of practice, the handwriting regains its initial shape. Similarly, internal conditions change, when muscles fatigue. This illustrates that the CNS needs to adjust motor command generation to ensure task achievement. The property to regain a previous level of motor performance under altered conditions is called motor adaptation.

Clearly, practice plays an important role in motor learning. However, practice alone is not sufficient to gain long-lasting expertise as newly formed motor memories are highly fragile. For this reason, newly formed motor memories need to be stabilized and protected against forgetting and interfering factors – a process called consolidation.

Another important feature of the CNS is the ability to generalize motor expertise from one context or task to another. For example, a person who learned writing with a pen will also be able to write with chalk on a blackboard or even to write with the other hand.

Despite their importance, adaptation, consolidation, and generalization of motor memories are insufficiently understood. Yet, these processes and their underlying mechanisms are of high interest both for fundamental research and in applied settings.

Selected publications:
  • Thürer, T., Weber, F., Born, J. & Stein, T. (2018). Variable training but not sleep improves consolidation of motor adaptation. Scientific Reports, 8:15977.
  • Thürer, B., Stockinger, C., Focke, A., Putze, F., Schultz, T. & Stein, T. (2016). Increased gamma band power during movement planning coincides with motor memory retrieval. NeuroImage, 15, 172–181.
  • Stockinger, C., Thürer, B., Focke, A. & Stein, T. (2015). Intermanual transfer characteristics of dynamic learning: direction, coordinate frame, and consolidation of interlimb generalization. Journal of Neurophysiology, 114 (6), 3166-3176.

Biomechanics in Orthopaedics and Ergonomics

In different scientific disciplines a fine grained analysis of human movements is necessary to be able access movement patterns or joint loads during gait or upper body movements like object manipulations. We are therefore documenting movements of different body segments in three dimensions (kinematics) and complement this with information of acting forces from the ground (kinetics). The kinematic and kinetic information together with anthropometric information from the human subject are input sources for biomechanical multibody models allowing the calculation of joint mechanics and muscle activity. 

We are using these methods in ergonomics for the analysis of different object manipulations in the context of manual assembly tasks to optimize workplace designs. Moreover, we are using these methods in orthopedics in the context of ruptures of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) to analyze the stabilizing effects of different knee braces or the changes in gait coordination during rehabilitation after an ACL reconstruction. Finally, we are analyzing the effects of knee braces on gait biomechanics in patients with knee osteoarthritis.

Selected publications:
  • Krafft, F. C., Stetter, B. J., Stein, T., Ellermann, A., Flechtenmacher, J., Eberle, C., Sell, S. & Potthast, W. (2017). How does functionality proceed in ACL reconstructed subjects? Proceeding of functional performance from pre- to six months post-ACL reconstruction. PLoS ONE, 12 (5): e0178430.
  • Graichen, S., Stein, T., Neff, C., Hoffmann, M. & Deml, B. (2015). Biomechanical Analysis of Manual Assembly Tasks. Zeitschrift für Arbeitswissenschaft, 69 (2), 105-112.
  • Krafft, F. C., Eckelt, M., Köllner, A., Wehrstein, M., Stein, T. & Potthast, W. (2015). Reproducibility of spatio-temporal and dynamic parameters in various, daily occurring, turning conditions. Gait & Posture, 41 (1), 307-312.

Sports Performance

 Picture: Jens Arbogast

Learning sport-specific skills generally covers a training process of several years. In most sports, also conditional capacities such as strength, endurance or speed are of great relevance. Based on multivariate statistical modelling as well as machine learning approaches, our research group investigates the significance of individual performance components and its relationships with regard to the selected sports (e.g., triathlon)

To be able to diagnose the current individual performance level adequate diagnostic techniques and methods are necessary. Biomechanical analyses, physiological testings, and sports-related tests are some of such methods, which are developed and optimized in our laboratory (e.g., use of mobile sensors in ice hockey).

Finally, our laboratory develops and evaluates new and innovative training protocols to increase the efficiency of sports training (e.g. athletics). Finally, results of this research strand are transferred into sports practice.

Selected publications: