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Center for Brain Research and Rehabilitation

The research facility of the School of Physical Therapy is located in the Innovation Research Park (IRB) Building II at Old Dominion University. The research area covers approximately 3,800 square feet and consists of three main research spaces. This facility is outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment for the measurement of various movement behaviors. Our current infrastructure includes a ten camera VICON motion capture system, four AMTI force platforms and two portable Bertec balance platforms, two platinum 20 ft GAITRite pressure sensitive walking surfaces and an instrumented h/p/Cosmos treadmill fitted with the Zebris pressure measuring system. 

An emerging strength of the research team centers on the use of virtual reality environments for assessing movement function in different population groups across the lifespan and as a rehabilitation tool. The recent addition of D-Flow software from Motek Medical allows us to readily develop virtual environments and to control the environment and treadmill based on data streaming in real-time.


Our primary research focus relates to the neurophysiological and biomechanical basis of human movement with particular interest as to the effects of normal aging, disease/disorders and injury on movement performance. This research laboratory is designed for multidisciplinary use by faculty and graduate students in Physical Therapy, Human Movement Sciences (HMS), and Electrical and Computer Engineering. Collaboration with the Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) and the Virginia Modeling and Simulation Center (VMASC) further allows us to participate in exciting research projects exploring new technology in the assessment of movement and rehabilitation.

Current Research Interests Include: 

Balance and Falls

Falls are a serious health problem for older people with more than one third of people over 65 suffering a fall at least once a year and many suffering multiple falls. As the ability to correct after a trip, and so prevent a fall, relies on the ability of the postural system to respond quickly and appropriately, any decline in balance mechanisms may lead to increased risk of falling. The likelihood of suffering a future adverse event is even greater for older individuals who suffer neurological damage (e.g. stroke) or develop age-related diseases like type 2 diabetes and Parkinson's disease. Collectively, these individuals often exhibit impaired balance, sensory-motor function and gait dynamics and are, consequently, at greater risk of falling. Given that over 400 potential risk factors have being identified with falls, determining which of these predispose individuals to falls is not a simple problem. However, the greatest risk factors tend to be impaired balance and walking ability due to age and/or disease related deterioration of postural control mechanisms. Consequently, a focus of this research interest is to identify specific falls risk factors for individuals who are at a greater risk of falling. However, simply identifying those variables that can predict increased risk is only part of the solution towards preventing a fall. We are also interested in assessing different interventions to minimize their chances of a future adverse event.

Recent Publications

Morrison, S., Colberg S.R., Parson H.K., and Vinik A.I. (2012). Relation between risk of falling and postural sway complexity in diabetes. Gait and Posture 35: 662-668.

Morrison, S, Colberg S.R., Mariano, M., Parson H.K., and Vinik A.I. (2010). Balance training reduces falls risk in older individuals with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care, 33(4) 748-750.

Sosnoff JJ., Socie, MJ., Boes, MK., Sandroff, BM., Pula, JH., Suh, Y, Weikert, M., Balantrapu, S., Morrison, S., and Motl, R.W. (2011). Mobility, balance and falls in persons with multiple sclerosis. PLoS ONE 6(11) e28021.

Tucker, M, Kavanagh, J. Morrison, S., and Barrett, R.S. (2010). What are the relations between voluntary postural sway measures and falls-history status in community-dwelling older adults? Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 91(5): 750-758.

Tucker, M, Kavanagh, J. Morrison, S., and Barrett, R.S. (2009). Voluntary sway and rapid orthogonal transitions of voluntary sway in young adults, and low and high fall-risk older adults. Clinical Biomechanics, 24(8): 597-605.

Walker ML, Austin A, Banke G, Foxx S, Gaetano L, Gardner L, McElhiney J, Morris K, Penn L.  (2007). Reference Group Data for the Functional Gait Assessment. Physical Therapy 87:1468-1477.

Changes in Complexity and Variability with Aging and Disease

A decline in general physiological function is a hallmark of the normal aging process. In an effort to capture the manner by which systems can be affected, this decline has been assessed in the context of changes in the complexity or variability of a physiological systems output. Consequently, altered levels of variability and complexity seen with aging have been linked with increased incidence of stroke, increased tremor, altered cardiovascular mechanics, diminished balance and gait problems.

Recent Publications

Morrison, S., and Sosnoff, J. (2009) Age-related changes in the adaptability of neuromuscular output. Journal of Motor Behavior, 41: 274-283.

Morrison, S., Mills, P.M., and Barrett, R.S. (2006). Differences in multiple segment tremor dynamics between the young and elderly. Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences 61A: 982-990.

Keogh, J., Morrison, S. and Barrett, R.S. (2006). Age-related differences in the coordination of digit forces during tri-digit finger-pinching. European Journal of Applied Physiology 97:76-88.

Tremor and Posture in Parkinson's disease

Parkinson's disease (PD) is a neurological disease which has severe implications for a person's motor function. Enhanced resting and postural tremors, increased muscle tone, impaired balance and altered locomotion are commonly associated with this disease process. A focus of our research has been to examine the physiological mechanism underlying these enhanced postural/resting tremors and the relation between limb oscillations and postural motion.

Recent Publications

Morrison, S., Kerr, G., Newell, K.M., and Silburn, P.A.S. (2008). Differential time- and frequency-dependent structure of postural sway and finger tremor in Parkinson's disease. Neuroscience Letters, 443: 123-128.

Morrison, S., Kerr, G., and Silburn, P.A.S. (2008). Bilateral tremor relations in Parkinson's disease: Effects of mechanical coupling and medication. Parkinsonism and Related Disorders, 14: 298-308.

Kerr, G., Morrison, S., and Silburn, P.A.S. (2008). Coupling between limb tremor and postural sway in Parkinson's disease. Movement Disorders, 23(3): 386-394.

Biomechanics of ACL injury

Damage to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a common injury for many individuals. While the consequences of ACL damage can be dramatic for the injured individual, there has been little decline in the incidence of these injuries over the past decade. Part of the reason for this relates to the numerous and multi-faceted nature of the potential risk factors. Previous research has identified numerous kinematic and kinetic factors across different joints and actions as potential markers for injury. Consequently, our research focus has been to assess the relation between multiple variables during actions that more closely mimic real world task performance.

Recent Publications

Cortes, N., Morrison, S, van Lunen, B.L., and Onate, J., (2012). Landing Technique Affects Knee Loading and Position During Athletic Tasks. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 15(2) 175-181.

Coordination and Stability in Walking

Walking requires the coordination of many body segments and muscles into a functional behavior. Our research seeks to understand the laws that underlie the dynamics of coordination in human movement. We have approached this by examining walking at different movement frequencies and speeds, and by creating asymmetries between limbs through placing different loads on the body. Using tools from nonlinear analysis we assess the role of stability in the adoption of, and transition between, different patterns of coordination.

Recent Publications

Russell, D. M., Kalbach, C. R., Massimini, C. M., and Martinez-Garza, C. (2010). Leg asymmetries and coordination dynamics in walking. Journal of Motor Behavior, 42: 157-168.

Kavanagh, J.J., Barrett, R.S., and Morrison, S. (2005). Age-related differences in head and trunk coordination during walking. Human Movement Science. 24(4): 574-587.

Kavanagh, J.J., Morrison, S. and Barrett, R. (2005). Coordination of head and trunk accelerations during walking. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 94, 468 - 475.

Virtual Reality for the Rehabilitation of Gait and Posture in Clinical Populations 

Individuals with a movement disorder may have limited opportunity to experience and practice some tasks due to their own functional limitations and safety concerns. Recent technological developments have allowed the creation of virtual environments that can be readily controlled and manipulated to suit different clinical populations and abilities. Work in our Center aims to capitalize on the ability of virtual reality technology to provide rich experiences, real-time feedback and individualized training. Thus far we have found VR treadmill training leads to improvements in walking for children with cerebral palsy and older adults who have suffered a stroke.

Recent Publications

Walker, M., Ringleb, S., Maihafer, G., Walker, R., Crouch, J.R., Van Lunen, B., and Morrison, S. (2010).  Reality enhanced partial body-weight supported treadmill training post stroke: Feasibility and effectiveness in six individuals. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 91: 115-122.

Kott, K., Lesher, K., and DeLeo, G. (2009) Combining a virtual reality system with treadmill training for children with cerebral palsy. Journal of Cybertherapy and Rehabilitation, 2:35-42.

Kott, K., DeLeo, G., Lesher, K., Brivio, E., and Morrison, S. (2008) Virtual reality gaming for treadmill training: Improved functional ambulation in children with cerebral palsy. Annual Review CyberTherapy and Telemedicine, 6: 105-110.

Vision Guides Action

Vision provides important information in guiding our movements to avoid obstacles as we walk down the street or intercept a ball traveling towards us. Light arriving at the eye changes as we move through the environment or objects move in front of us. We investigate the information that could be provided in this optic flow and how it is used in guiding actions of healthy individuals and people with neurological disorders.

Recent Publications

Katsumata, H., and Russell, D. M. (2012). Prospective versus predictive control in timing of hitting a falling ball. Experimental Brain Research, 216: 499-514.

Standardized Walking Obstacle Course

This is a test of Functional Upright Mobility measuring the ability to independently move from place to place with changing environmental demands. The SWOC pathway is 39.5' long and 36" wide. It has three turns (30° right, 90° left and 70° right), a crutch to step over, a visually stimulating mat and shag carpet to walk across, a trash can to step around, two chairs to transition sit to stand and stand to sit at the end of the path. Clinical measures of timeliness and stability are collected under different conditions. Validation of standardized testing in children specifically use of the Standardized Walking Obstacle Course is important to advance evidence-based clinical practice.

Recent Publications

Kott, K., Held, S. L., Giles, E. F., Franjoine, M. R. (2011) Predictors of Standardized Walking Obstacle Course Outcome Measures in a Sample of Children with and Without Developmental Disabilities. Pediatr Phys Ther ;23:365-373.

Held SL, Kott KM, Young B. (2006) Standardized Walking Obstacle Course (SWOC): reliability and validity of a functional measurement tool in children who are developing typically and atypically. Pediatr Phys Ther, 18(1): 23-30.

For further information as to the research that goes on in our lab please contact:

Steven Morrison, PhD
Director of Research
Endowed Professor of Physical Therapy
School of Physical Therapy
Old Dominion University
Norfolk, VA 23529
(757) 683 6757
Email: smorriso@odu.edu