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The relationship between control, kinematic and electromyographic variables in fast single-joint movements in humans


Two versions of the hypothesis that discrete movements are produced by shifts in the system's equilibrium point are considered. The first suggests that shifts are monotonic and end near the peak velocity of movement, and the second presumes that they are nonmonotonic (“N-shaped”) and proceed until the end of movement. The first version, in contrast to the second, predicts that movement time may be significantly reduced by opposing loads without changes in the control pattern. The purpose of the present study was to test the two hypotheses about the duration and shape of the shift in the equilibrium point based on their respective predictions concerning the effects of perturbations on kinematic and EMG patterns in fast elbow flexor movements. Subjects performed unopposed flexions of about 55–70° (control trials) and, in random test trials, movements were opposed by spring-like loads generated by a torque motor. Subjects had no visual feedback and were instructed not to correct arm deflections in case of perturbations. After the end of the movement, the load was removed leading to a secondary movement to the same final position as that in control trials (equifinality). When the load was varied, the static arm positions before unloading and associated joint torques (ranging from 0 to 80–90% of maximum voluntary contraction) had a monotonic relationship. Test movements opposed by a high load (80–90% of maximal voluntary contraction) ended near the peak velocity of control movements. Phasic and tonic electromyographic patterns were load-dependent. In movements opposed by high loads, the first agonist burst was significantly prolonged and displayed a high level of tonic activity for as long as the load was maintained. In the same load conditions, the antagonist burst was suppressed during the dynamic and static phases of movement. The findings of suppression of the antagonist burst does not support the hypothesis of an Nshaped control signal. Equally, the substantial reduction in movement time by the introduction of an opposing load cannot be reconciled in this model. Instead, our data indicate that the shifts in the equilibrium point underlying fast flexor movements are of short duration, ending near the peak velocity of unopposed movement. This suggests that kinematic and electromyographic patterns represent a long-lasting oscillatory response of the system to the short-duration monotonic control pattern, external forces and proprioceptive feedback.

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Feldman, A.G., Adamovich, S.V. & Levin, M.F. The relationship between control, kinematic and electromyographic variables in fast single-joint movements in humans. Exp Brain Res 103, 440–450 (1995). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00241503

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Key words

  • Control variables
  • Single-joint movement
  • Electromyographic patterns
  • Stretch reflex
  • Equilibrium-point hypothesis