Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 237, Issue 5, pp 1141–1154 | Cite as

Single finger movements in the aging hand: changes in finger independence, muscle activation patterns and tendon displacement in older adults

  • Nathalie Van Beek
  • Dick F. Stegeman
  • Ilse Jonkers
  • Chris L. de Korte
  • DirkJan Veeger
  • Huub MaasEmail author
Research Article


With aging, hand mobility and manual dexterity decline, even under healthy circumstances. To assess how aging affects finger movement control, we compared elderly and young subjects with respect to (1) finger movement independence, (2) neural control of extrinsic finger muscles and (3) finger tendon displacements during single finger flexion. In twelve healthy older (age 68–84) and nine young (age 22–29) subjects, finger kinematics were measured to assess finger movement enslaving and the range of independent finger movement. Muscle activation was assessed using a multi-channel electrode grid placed over the flexor digitorum superficialis (FDS) and the extensor digitorum (ED). FDS tendon displacements of the index, middle and ring fingers were measured using ultrasound. In older subjects compared to the younger subjects, we found: (1) increased enslaving of the middle finger during index finger flexion (young: 25.6 ± 12.4%, elderly: 47.0 ± 25.1%; p = 0.018), (2) a lower range of independent movement of the index finger (youngmiddle = 74.0%, elderlymiddle: 45.9%; p < 0.001), (3) a more evenly distributed muscle activation pattern over the finger-specific FDS and ED muscle regions and (4) a lower slope at the beginning of the finger movement to tendon displacement relationship, presenting a distinct period with little to no tendon displacement. Our study indicates that primarily the movement independence of the index finger is affected by aging. This can partly be attributed to a muscle activation pattern that is more evenly distributed over the finger-specific FDS and ED muscle regions in the elderly.


Finger enslaving Tendon interconnections Motor control Muscle coactivation Multi-channel EMG Ultrasound 



The authors thank the subjects for participating in the study, Barry Hes for assisting in the measurements, the department of Medical Ultrasound Imaging Center (MUSIC), especially Rik Hansen and Kaj Gijsbertse for their help with the ultrasound software, Henk Kortier, Josien van den Noort and Ed Droog from the University of Twente for their help with the PowerGlove and Bert Clairbois, Hans Agricola and Leon Schutte of the department of Human Movement Sciences for technical assistance. This research is funded by the European Commission through MOVE-AGE, an Erasmus Mundus Joint Doctorate program (2011-0015).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nathalie Van Beek
    • 1
  • Dick F. Stegeman
    • 1
    • 2
  • Ilse Jonkers
    • 3
  • Chris L. de Korte
    • 4
    • 6
  • DirkJan Veeger
    • 1
    • 5
  • Huub Maas
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Human Movement Sciences, Faculty of Behavioural and Movement Sciences, Amsterdam Movement SciencesVrije Universiteit AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Department of Neurology and Clinical Neurophysiology, Donders Institute of Brain, Cognition and BehaviourRadboud University Medical CentreNijmegenThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Human Movement Biomechanics Research Group, Department of Human Movement SciencesKU LeuvenLeuvenBelgium
  4. 4.Department of Radiology and Nuclear Medicine, Medical UltraSound Imaging Center (MUSIC)Radboud University Medical CenterNijmegenThe Netherlands
  5. 5.Department of BioMechanical EngineeringDelft University of TechnologyDelftThe Netherlands
  6. 6.Physics of Fluids Group, Technical Medical (TechMed) CentreUniversity of TwenteEnschedeThe Netherlands

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