Effects of focal hand dystonia on visually guided and internally guided force control

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A fundamental feature underlying many movement disorders is increased variability in the motor response. Despite abnormalities of grip force control in people with dystonia, it is not clear whether dystonia is also associated with increased variability in force output and whether force variability in dystonia is affected by the presence or absence of visual feedback.


To examine force variability in 16 patients with writer’s cramp and 16 matched controls.


The variability of force output at the wrist under conditions of both vision and no vision was examined. The underlying frequency structure of the force signal was also compared across groups. Participants produced isometric wrist flexion to targets at 25% and 50% of their maximum voluntary contraction strength under conditions of both vision and no vision.


Similar levels of force variability were observed in patients with dystonia and controls at the lower force levels, but patients with dystonia were less variable in their force output than controls at the higher force level. This reduction in variability in people with dystonia at 50% maximum voluntary contraction was not affected by vision. Although a similar dominant frequency in force output was observed in people with dystonia and controls, a reduced variability in the group with dystonia at the higher force level was due to reduced power in the 0–4-Hz frequency bin.


The first evidence of a movement disorder with reduced variability is provided. The findings are compatible with a model of dystonia, which includes reduced cortical activation in response to sensory input from the periphery and reduced flexibility in motor output.

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