Are automatic postural responses in patients with Parkinson’s disease abnormal due to their stooped posture?
In subjects standing on a movable platform, sudden dorsiflexion of the ankle joint elicits a set of reflexes in leg muscles. These responses include a short latency (SL) and medium latency (ML) stretch reflex in the gastrocnemius muscle and a distal to proximal innervation sequence of long latency (LL) reflexes in the shortened tibialis anterior and vastus lateralis muscles. Because of their role in maintaining upright stance these responses have been termed postural reflexes. In patients with Parkinson's disease (PD), the following abnormalities have been described: 1) enhanced ML-amplitudes; 2) a reversed LL innervation sequence; and 3) delayed onset latencies. These abnormalities are thought to be due to defective motor programming and disturbed control of spinal and supraspinal reflex centers by basal ganglia circuits. The altered reflexes have been held responsible for some of the clinical features of PD, including balance impairment and rigidity. In this paper, we argue the reverse hypothesis that postural reflexes are essentially normal in PD, and that the observed alterations are at least in part consequence rather than cause of balance impairment, the stooped parkinsonian posture and rigidity of PD patients.