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Exp Brain Res. 1996 Mar;108(2):305-14.

Central fatigue during a long-lasting submaximal contraction of the triceps surae.

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Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden.


Our purpose was to study central fatigue and its dependence on peripheral reflex inhibition during a sustained submaximal contraction of the triceps surae. In 11 healthy subjects, superimposed twitches, surface electromyograms (EMG) from the medial head of the gastrocnemius (MG) and soleus (SOL) muscles, maximal compound motor action potentials (M(max)), tracking error and tremor were recorded during sustained fatiguing contractions at a torque level corresponding to 30% of maximal voluntary contraction (MVC). When the endurance limit (401 +/- 91 s) of the voluntary contraction (VC-I) was reached, the triceps surae could be electrically stimulated to the same torque level for an additional 1 min in 10 of the 11 subjects. These subjects were then able to continue the contraction voluntarily (voluntary contraction II, VC-II) for another 85 +/- 48 s. At the endurance limit of VC-I, the superimposed twitch was larger than during the unfatigued MVC, while there was no significant difference between the twitch at the endurance limit of VC-II and MVC. The EMG amplitude of both MG and SOL at the endurance limit of VC-I was significantly less than that during the MVC. While the EMG amplitude of MG increased further during VC-II, SOL EMG remained unchanged, neither muscle reaching their unfatigued MVC values. This difference was diminished for SOL by taking into account its decrease in M(max) found during VC-II, and relative EMG levels approached their MVC values. These results clearly indicate that a higher voluntary muscle activation was achievable after 1 min of electrical muscle stimulation, which continued metabolic stress and contractile fatigue processes but allowed for supraspinal, muscle spindle and/or motoneuronal recovery. It is concluded that peripheral reflex inhibition of alpha-motoneurons via small-diameter muscle afferents is of minor significance for the development of the central fatigue that was found to occur during the first voluntary contraction.

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