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Muscle Nerve. 2000 Apr;23(4):600-12.

Steadiness is reduced and motor unit discharge is more variable in old adults.

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Department of Kinesiology, University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, Colorado 80309-0354, USA.


The purpose of this study was to compare the steadiness and discharge rate of motor units during submaximal contractions performed by young and old adults. Subjects performed isometric and slow shortening and lengthening contractions with the first dorsal interosseous muscle. The steadiness of the isometric and slow anisometric contractions was less for the old subjects compared with young subjects, especially at the lower target forces and with the lightest loads. Furthermore, the steadiness of the lengthening contractions was less compared with the shortening contractions for the old subjects. Although the mean discharge rates of motor units were not different for the two groups of subjects, the variability of the discharge rates was greater for the old subjects during the isometric and anisometric contractions. We conclude that a more variable discharge by single motor units probably contributes to the reduced ability of old adults to perform steady muscle contractions.

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