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Eur J Appl Physiol. 2000 Oct;83(2-3):151-8.

Human muscle activity related to non-biomechanical factors in the workplace.

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  • 1National Institute of Occupational Health, Oslo, Norway.


This paper presents current knowledge on low-level, long-lasting work-related muscle activity, focusing on the shoulder and the upper part of the trapezius muscle, and on mental, rather than biomechanical reasons for the muscle activation. The paper identifies three sources of vocational muscle activity: the biomechanical need for force production in order to perform movements or maintain postures against the force of gravity, the biomechanical need to stabilise body parts as a reference for performing movements and securing a stable visual field, and finally, muscle activity without obvious biomechanical purposes. This last category has been labelled non-biomechanical muscle activity in this review. Non-biomechanical muscle activity is related to the mental load, the emotional load and the individual characteristics of the subject, and is identified as having a low-level and a low second-to-second variability, resembling a static muscle contraction. Recent research has indicated that the size principle for motor unit recruitment order puts a strain on a limited number of low-threshold motor units which might be heavily taxed despite the overall low level of this muscle activity. However, the paper also cites a recent report showing that motor unit substitution may occur in prolonged low-level muscle activation (longer than a few minutes). Evaluations of muscle load at work usually omit the possibility of extra muscle activation due to nonbiomechanical factors, and thus may often give estimates of the muscle load that are too low, or misinterpret nonbiomechanical muscle activity as biomechanical muscle load.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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