Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 185, Issue 4, pp 689–698 | Cite as

Changes in the degree of motor variability associated with experimental and chronic neck–shoulder pain during a standardised repetitive arm movement

  • Pascal MadeleineEmail author
  • Svend Erik Mathiassen
  • Lars Arendt-Nielsen
Research Article


The aim of the present study was to investigate the effect of experimental and chronic neck–shoulder pain on the magnitude of cycle-to-cycle variability of task timing, kinematics and muscle activation during repetitive arm movement performed for 3 or 5 min. In an experimental part, acute muscle pain was induced in healthy subjects by intramuscular injection of hypertonic saline in trapezius (n = 10) and infraspinatus (n = 10) muscles. In a clinical part, workers with (n = 12) and without (n = 6) chronic neck–shoulder pain were compared. Cycle-to-cycle standard deviations of task duration, arm and trunk movement in 3D and surface electromyographic (EMG) root mean square activity were computed to assess the degree of variability. The variability in task timing increased in presence of both experimental and chronic pain (P < 0.05) compared with non-painful conditions. Experimental pain increased the variability of the starting position of the arm (P < 0.05), the arm range of motion (P < 0.01), the arm and trunk movement area (P < 0.01) and the acceleration of the arm (P < 0.01). In the chronic pain condition, the variability of arm and trunk acceleration (P < 0.01) and EMG activity (P < 0.05) was decreased compared with healthy controls. These results indicate that pain alters the magnitude of motor variability, and that the transition from acute to chronic pain is accompanied by changes in motor patterns. Experimental pain likely resulted in a quest for a motor solution reducing nociceptive influx, while chronic pain was characterised by a diminished motor flexibility.


Variation Pain status Muscle pain Motor pattern Shoulder region 



The authors are grateful to Birthe Lundager (Social Medicine Unit, Aalborg Hospital) and Michael Voigt [Centre for Sensory-Motor Interaction (SMI), Aalborg University] for the help during data acquisition. This work was financially supported by Arbejdsmiljøforskningsfond, Sygekassernes Helsefond, Norma og Frode S. Jacobsens Fond, and the Danish National Research Foundation.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Pascal Madeleine
    • 1
    Email author
  • Svend Erik Mathiassen
    • 2
  • Lars Arendt-Nielsen
    • 1
  1. 1.Laboratory for Work-Related Pain and Biomechanics, Center for Sensory-Motor Interaction (SMI), Department of Health Science and TechnologyAalborg UniversityAalborgDenmark
  2. 2.Centre for Musculoskeletal ResearchUniversity of GävleGävleSweden

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