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J Electromyogr Kinesiol. 2007 Feb;17(1):57-73. Epub 2006 Feb 2.

Muscles within muscles: Coordination of 19 muscle segments within three shoulder muscles during isometric motor tasks.

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  • 1Department of Biomedical Science, University of Wollongong, Wollongong 2500, Australia.


The aim of the present study was to determine how the intra-muscular segments of three shoulder muscles were coordinated to produce isometric force impulses around the shoulder joint and how muscle segment coordination was influenced by changes in movement direction, mechanical line of action and moment arm (ma). Twenty male subjects (mean age 22 years; range 18-30 years) with no known history of shoulder pathologies, volunteered to participate in this experiment. Utilising an electromyographic technique, the timing and intensity of contraction within 19 muscle segments of three superficial shoulder muscles (Pectoralis Major, Deltoid and Latissimus Dorsi) were studied and compared during the production of rapid (e.g. approximately 400ms time to peak) isometric force impulses in four different movement directions of the shoulder joint (flexion, extension, abduction and adduction). The results of this investigation have suggested that the timing and intensity of each muscle segment's activation was coordinated across muscles and influenced by the muscle segment's moment arm and its mechanical line of action in relation to the intended direction of shoulder movement (e.g. flexion, extension, abduction or adduction). There was also evidence that motor unit task groups were formed for individual motor tasks which comprise motor units from both adjacent and distant muscles. It was also confirmed that for any particular motor task, individual muscle segments can be functionally classified as prime mover, synergist or antagonist - classifications which are flexible from one movement to the next.

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