Key words Motor control
Voluntary prolonged contraction
Springer Online Journal Archives 1860-2000
Abstract The purpose of the present study was to investigate motor unit (MU) recruitment and firing rate, and the MU action potential (MUAP) characteristics of the human supraspinatus muscle during prolonged static contraction and subsequent recovery. Eight female subjects sustained a 30° shoulder abduction, requiring 11–12% of maximal voluntary contraction (MVC), for 30 min. At 10 and 30 min into the recovery period, the shoulder abduction was repeated for 1 min. The rating of perceived exertion for the shoulder region increased to “close to exhaustion” during the prolonged contraction, and the surface electromyography (EMG) recorded from the deltoid and trapezius muscles showed signs of local muscle fatigue. From the supraspinatus muscle, a total of 23,830 MU firings from 265 MUs were identified using needle electrodes. Of the identified MUs, 95% were continuously active during the 8-s recordings, indicating a low degree of MU rotation. The mean (range) MU firing rate was 11.2 (5.7–14.5) Hz, indicating the relative force contribution of individual MUs to be larger than the overall mean shoulder muscle load. The average MU firing rate remained stable throughout the prolonged abduction, although firing rate variability increased in response to fatigue. The average concentric MUAP amplitude increased by 38% from the beginning (0–6 min) to the end (24–29 min) of the contraction period, indicating recruitment of larger MUs in response to fatigue. In contrast, after 10 min of recovery the average MU amplitude was smaller than seen initially in the prolonged contraction, but not different after 30 min, while the MU firing rate was higher during both tests. In conclusion, MU recruitment plays a significant role during fatigue, whereas rate coding has a major priority during recovery. Furthermore, a low degree of MU rotation in combination with a high relative load at the MU level may imply a risk of overloading certain MUs during prolonged contractions.
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