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Nondigital afferent input in reactive control of fingertip forces during precision grip

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Sensory inputs from the digits are important in initiating and scaling automatic reactive grip responses that help prevent frictional slips when grasped objects are subjected to destabilizing load forces. In the present study we analyzed the contribution to grip-force control from mechanoreceptors located proximal to the digits when subjects held a small manipulandum between the tips of the thumb and index finger. Loads of various controlled amplitudes and rates were delivered tangential to the grip surfaces at unpredictable times. Grip forces (normal to the grip surfaces) and the position of the manipulandum were recorded. In addition, movements of hand and arm segments were assessed by recording the position of markers placed at critical points. Subjects performed test series during normal digital sensibility and during local anesthesia of the index finger and thumb. To grade the size of movements of tissues proximal to the digits caused by the loadings, three different conditions of arm and hand support were used; (1) in the hand-support condition the subjects used the three ulnar fingers to grasp a vertical dowel support and the forearm was supported in a vacuum cast; (2) in the forearm-support condition only the forearm was supported; finally, (3) in the no-support condition the arm was free. With normal digital sensibility the size of the movements proximal to the digits had small effects on the grip-force control. In contrast, the grip control was markedly influenced by the extent of such movements during digital anesthesia. The poorest control was observed in the hand-support condition, allowing essentially only digital movements. The grip responses were either absent or attenuated, with greatly prolonged onset latencies. In the forearm and no-support conditions, when marked wrist movements took place, both the frequency and the strength of grip-force responses were higher, and the grip response latencies were shorter. However, the performance never approached normal. It is concluded that sensory inputs from the digits are dominant in reactive grip control. However, nondigital sensory input may be used for some grip control during impaired digital sensibility. Furthermore, the quality of the control during impaired sensibility depends on the extent of movements evoked by the load in the distal, unanesthetized parts of the arm. The origin of these useful sensory signals is discussed.

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Häger-Ross, C., Johansson, R.S. Nondigital afferent input in reactive control of fingertip forces during precision grip. Exp Brain Res 110, 131–141 (1996). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00241382

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Key words

  • Grasp force
  • Tactile sensibility
  • Proprioception
  • Motor control
  • Human