Neural control of shortening and lengthening contractions: influence of task constraints

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Abstract

Although the performance capabilities of muscle differ during shortening and lengthening contractions, realization of these differences during functional tasks depends on the characteristics of the activation signal discharged from the spinal cord. Fundamentally, the control strategy must differ during the two anisometric contractions due to the lesser force that each motor unit exerts during a shortening contraction and the greater difficulty associated with decreasing force to match a prescribed trajectory during a lengthening contraction. The activation characteristics of motor units during submaximal contractions depend on the details of the task being performed. Indexes of the strategy encoded in the descending command, such as coactivation of antagonist muscles and motor unit synchronization, indicate differences in cortical output for the two types of anisometric contractions. Furthermore, the augmented feedback from peripheral sensory receptors during lengthening contractions appears to be suppressed by centrally and peripherally mediated presynaptic inhibition of Ia afferents, which may also explain the depression of voluntary activation that occurs during maximal lengthening contractions. Although modulation of the activation during shortening and lengthening contractions involves both supraspinal and spinal mechanisms, the association with differences in performance cannot be determined without more careful attention to the details of the task.

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