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J Neurophysiol. 2003 May;89(5):2396-405. Epub 2003 Jan 22.

Role of cocontraction in arm movement accuracy.

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Department of Psychology, Graduate Program in Neuroscience, The University of Western Ontario, London, Canada.


Cocontraction (the simultaneous activation of antagonist muscles around a joint) provides the nervous system with a way to adapt the mechanical properties of the limb to changing task requirements-both in statics and during movement. However, relatively little is known about the conditions under which the motor system modulates limb impedance through cocontraction. The goal of this study was to test for a possible relationship between cocontraction and movement accuracy in multi-joint limb movements. The electromyographic activity of seven single- and double-joint shoulder and elbow muscles was recorded using surface electrodes while subjects performed a pointing task in a horizontal plane to targets that varied randomly in size. Movement speed was controlled by providing subjects with feedback on a trial-to-trial basis. Measures of cocontraction were estimated both during movement and during a 200-ms window immediately following movement end. We observed an inverse relationship between target size and cocontraction: as target size was reduced, cocontraction activity increased. In addition, trajectory variability decreased and endpoint accuracy improved. This suggests that, although energetically expensive, cocontraction may be a strategy used by the motor system to facilitate multi-joint arm movement accuracy. We also observed a general trend for cocontraction levels to decrease over time, supporting the idea that cocontraction and associated limb stiffness are reduced over the course of practice.

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