Experimental muscle pain changes motor control strategies in dynamic contractions


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Abstract

This study investigated the effect of muscle pain on muscle activation strategies during dynamic exercises. Ten healthy volunteers performed cyclic elbow flexion/extension movements at maximum speed for 2 min after injection of (1) hypertonic (painful) saline in the biceps brachii, (2) hypertonic saline in both biceps brachii and triceps brachii, and (3) isotonic (nonpainful) saline in the biceps brachii muscle. Surface electromyographic (EMG) signals were collected from the upper trapezius, biceps brachii, triceps brachii, and brachioradialis muscles (to estimate EMG amplitude) and with an electrode arrays from biceps brachii (to estimate muscle fiber conduction velocity [CV]). In all conditions, the acceleration of the movement decreased throughout the exercise, and kinematic parameters were not altered by pain. With respect to the control condition, pain induced a decrease of the biceps brachii (mean ± SE, -23±4%) and brachioradialis (-10±0.4%) integrated EMG (IEMG) in the beginning of the exercise, and an increase (45±3.5%) of the upper trapezius IEMG at all time points during the exercise. The biceps brachii IEMG decreased over time during the nonpainful exercises (-11±0.6%) while it remained constant in the painful condition. Biceps brachii CV decreased during painful conditions (-12.8±2.2%) while it remained constant during the nonpainful condition. In conclusion, muscle pain changes the motor control strategy to sustain the required dynamic task both in the relative contribution between synergistic muscles and in the motor unit activation within the painful muscle. Such a changed motor strategy may be highly relevant in models of occupational musculoskeletal pain conditions.

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