Effect of Load Carriage on Upper Limb Performance

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This study aimed to evaluate the changes in the upper extremity hemodynamic and neural function and to assess how they are associated with brachial plexus tissue deformation during heavy load carriage.


Ten young healthy adults carried for 45 min a backpack load (40% of their body weight) while standing freely, followed by 15 min of recovery (unloaded). Index-finger microvascular flow and sensorimotor function were measured before and after carrying the load, and after recovery. The following sensorimotor functions were measured: light touch thresholds by the index finger and little finger, forearm thermal sensation thresholds, and gross motor function. In addition, marksmanship accuracy, as an indication for fine motor function, was tested.


Load carriage resulted in an average decrease of ~40% in microvascular flow and a significant decrement in light touch sensation (P < 0.05), but not in thermal sensation and gross motor functions. An increase in the light touch threshold was highly correlated with a reduced index-finger microvascular blood flow (r = 0.79, P = 0.007). These physiological effects were associated with a functional 34% decrement in the accuracy of target acquisition.


Heavy load carriage resulted in impaired light touch sensitivity and fine motor function, which were associated with reduced finger microvascular blood flow.

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