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Phys Ther. 1993 Dec;73(12):830-43.

Motor unit recruitment and the gradation of muscle force.

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Department of Physiology, University of Berne, Switzerland.


The capabilities of the different types of motor units are reviewed, and their properties in a variety of muscles are discussed. Because the tension-generating capacities of motor units are so different, the order in which they are recruited will have a strong influence on the way force output of the whole muscle is graded. Activation of motor units in a random order produces a roughly linear force increase with progressive recruitment, whereas recruitment of motor units in order of increasing force produces an approximately exponential force increase as the number of active motor units increases. The latter scheme allows fine control of weak movements and rapid production of powerful movements. Motor units are shown to be well adapted to the tasks they must perform, and a "compromise" motor unit will not fulfill all the tasks demanded of it. Finally, changes in motor unit properties produced by different activity patterns and by muscle reinnervation are reviewed, and the implications for rehabilitation are discussed.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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