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Effect of muscle fatigue on the sense of limb position and movement


We have recently shown that in an unsupported forearm-matching task blindfolded human subjects are able to achieve an accuracy of 2–3°. If one arm was exercised to produce significant fatigue and the matching task was repeated, it led subjects to make position-matching errors. Here that result is confirmed using fatigue from a simple weight-lifting exercise. A 30% drop in maximum voluntary force after the exercise was accompanied by a significant matching error of 1.7° in the direction of extension when the reference arm had been fatigued, and 1.9° in the direction of flexion when the indicator arm had been fatigued. We also tested the effect of fatigue on a simple movement tracking task where the reference forearm was moved into extension at a range of speeds from 10 to 50°s−1. Fatigue was found not to significantly reduce the movement-tracking accuracy. In a second experiment, movement tracking was measured while one arm was vibrated. When it was the reference arm, the subject perceived the movement to be significantly faster (3.7°s−1) than it actually was. When it was the indicator, it was perceived to be slower (4.6°s−1). The data supports the view that muscle spindles are responsible for the sense of movement, and that this sense is not prone to the disturbance from fatigue. By contrast, the sense of position can be disturbed by muscle fatigue. It is postulated, that the sense of effort experienced by holding the arm against the force of gravity is able to provide information about the position in space of the limb and that the increased effort from fatigue produces positional errors.

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The work was carried out with support from the National Health & Medical Research Council of Australia. We would like to thank D.J. Tracey for his suggestions for the experiments, and D.L. Morgan for his help with the statistics.

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Correspondence to U. Proske.

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Allen, T., Proske, U. Effect of muscle fatigue on the sense of limb position and movement. Exp Brain Res 170, 30–38 (2006).

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  • Fatigue
  • Vibration
  • Muscle spindle