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Balance control is essential for safe walking. Adding haptic input through light touch may improve walking balance; however, evidence is limited. This research investigated the effect of added haptic input through light touch in healthy young adults during challenging walking conditions. Sixteen individuals walked normally, in tandem, and on a compliant, low-lying balance beam with and without light touch on a railing. Three-dimensional kinematic data were captured to compute stride velocity (m/s), relative time spent in double support (%DS), a medial-lateral margin of stability (MOSML) and its variance (MOSMLCV), as well as a symmetry index (SI) for the MOSML. Muscle activity was evaluated by integrating electromyography signals for the soleus, tibialis anterior, and gluteus medius muscles bilaterally. Adding haptic input decreased stride velocity, increased the %DS, had no effect on the MOSML magnitude, decreased the MOSMLCV, had no effect on the SI, and increased activity of most muscles examined during normal walking. During tandem walking, stride velocity and the MOSMLCV decreased, while %DS, MOSML magnitude, SI, and muscle activity did not change with light touch. When walking on a low-lying, compliant balance beam, light touch had no effect on walking velocity, MOSML magnitude, or muscle activity; however, the %DS increased and the MOSMLCV and SI decreased when lightly touching a railing while walking on the balance beam. The decreases in the MOSMLCV with light touch across all walking conditions suggest that adding haptic input through light touch on a railing may improve balance control during walking through reduced variability.
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