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J Appl Physiol (1985). 2001 Dec;91(6):2654-64.

Effect of aging on fatigue characteristics of elbow flexor muscles during sustained submaximal contraction.

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Physical Therapy Graduate Program, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242, USA.


The purpose of this study was to compare fatigue-related measures of central and peripheral mechanisms between young and elderly subjects for a task performed with elbow flexor muscles. Ten young and nine elderly subjects performed a sustained submaximal fatigue task at 35% of their maximum voluntary contraction torque. Measures of neuromuscular function, reflecting changes in neuromuscular propagation, voluntary activation, excitation-contraction-relaxation processes, and metabolite buildup, were taken before, during, and after the fatigue task. The main results were the absence of neuromuscular propagation failure in either young or elderly subjects, the presence of central fatigue at the end of the fatigue task in 7 of 9 elderly but only 3 of 10 young subjects, and lesser changes in twitch torque contraction-relaxation variables and electromyographic median frequency in elderly compared with young subjects. The lesser fatigue-related changes in twitch contraction speed and median frequency in elderly compared with young subjects could reflect the increase in type I-to-type II fiber area reported with old age. The presence of significant central fatigue can apparently minimize some of the potential differences present in peripheral fatigue sites.

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