The effect of muscle pain on elbow flexion and coactivation tasks

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The effects of muscle pain on movement can easily be observed in daily life routines. However, the influence of muscle pain on motor control strategies has not been fully clarified. In this human experimental study it was hypothesized that muscle pain affects the motor control of elbow flexion movements, in different combinations of range of motion and target size, by decreased agonistic muscle activity and increased antagonistic muscle activity with consequent implications on kinematic parameters. The effects of experimentally induced muscle pain on movement strategy for: (1) small and large range of motion (ROM) elbow flexion movements towards a wide target, (2) large ROM flexion movements towards a narrow and wide target, and (3) subsequent coactivation of agonistic and antagonistic muscles to elbow flexion were assessed. Muscle pain induced by injections of hypertonic saline (1 ml, 5.8%) in either m. biceps brachii or m. triceps brachii caused similar effects on the movements. For low accurate movements the initial (100 ms) integrated electromyographic (EMG) activity of m. biceps brachii was decreased during muscle pain. In contrast, integrated EMG of the entire m. biceps brachii burst was decreased by muscle pain only for small ROM at a low accuracy, which also showed decreased EMG activity of m. triceps brachii and m. brachioradialis, together with increased activity of m. trapezius. Finally, high accurate movements and post-movement coactivation were generally not modulated by muscle pain. In summary, the present study shows that acute muscle pain can perturb the motor control strategy, which might be highly important in occupational settings where such a change may need compensatory actions from other muscles and thereby eventually contribute to the development of musculoskeletal pain problems.

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