Do you know where your arm is if you think your head has moved?

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Reproduction of a previously presented elbow position is affected by changes in head position. As movement of the head is associated with local biomechanical changes, the aim of the present study was to determine if illusory changes in head position could induce similar effects on the reproduction of elbow position. Galvanic vestibular stimulation (GVS) was applied to healthy subjects in supine lying. The stimulus was applied during the presentation of an elbow position, which the subject then reproduced without stimulation. In the first study, 13 subjects received 1.5 mA stimuli, which caused postural sway in standing, confirming that the firing of vestibular afferents was affected, but no illusory changes in head position were reported. In the second study, 13 subjects received 2.0-3.0 mA GVS. Six out of 13 subjects reported consistent illusory changes in head position, away from the side of the anode. In these subjects, anode right stimulation induced illusory left lateral flexion and elbow joint position error towards extension (p=0.03), while anode left tended to have the opposite effect (p=0.16). The GVS had no effect on error in subjects who did not experience illusory head movement with either 1.5 mA stimulus (p=0.8) or 2.0-3.0 mA stimulus (p=0.7). This study demonstrates that the accuracy of elbow repositioning is affected by illusory changes in head position. These results support the hypothesis that the perceived position of proximal body segments is used in the planning and performance of accurate upper limb movements.

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