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Striding not shuffling stops accidents on slippery surfaces

Walking purposely across slippery surfaces such as ice and oil is less likely to cause you to slip than slowly shuffling along, a new study suggests.

For a firm-footed striding stance across a slippery surface is less likely to lead to a fall than if you move slowly, the latest research has found.

The key seems to be that striding along keeps your centre of gravity in front of your feet where shuffling means it lies behind.

This in turn effects grip.

Timothy Higham of Clemson University, South Carolina and Andrew Clark of the College of Charleston, said approaching a slippery surface slowly makes it harder to shift the centre of your weight forward once foot contact is made.

The researchers studied guinea fowl strutting along a 18ft runway that either had a rough-surface section (150-grit sandpaper) or a slippery one (drawer liner).

High-speed video recorded the action.

The experiment, reported in the Journal of Experimental Biology, found that once the knee passes the ankle during contact with slippery ground, slipping stops.

This is easier to do with more forward momentum.

The finding could be useful for humans as they shared many similar characteristics when it came to walking.

"The findings can be useful in helping humans, especially older ones, make their way across surfaces that are wet, icy or oily," said Higham.

"The key to avoiding slips seems to be speed and keeping the body mass forward, slightly ahead of the ankles after the foot contacts the ground."

Slips are a major cause of falls that can cause injuries and even deaths.

The researchers found not only saw that speed, foot position and body alignment made a difference, but also the slip distance.

For a guinea fowl to fall, it needed to slip a minimum of 10 centimetres — just under four inches.

The distance is the same for humans, said Higham.

Guinea fowl leg joints and human knees and ankles function in similar ways: the position of the knee relative to the foot can create joint angles — wide or narrow — that can cause or prevent loss of balance on slippery surfaces, the scientists said.

"Our study shows that there are common limb-control strategies on slippery surfaces in helmeted guineas and humans," said Mr Higham.

© Telegraph.co.uk