A trailing joint control pattern, during which a single joint is rotated actively and the mechanical effect of this motion is used to move the other joints, was previously observed during simplified, laboratory-based tasks. We examined whether this simple pattern also underlies control of complex, unconstrained arm movements of daily activities. Six tasks were analyzed. Using kinematic data, we estimated motion of 7 degrees of freedom (DOF) of the shoulder, elbow, and wrist, and the contribution of muscle and passive interaction and gravitational torques to net torque at each joint. Despite task variety, the hand was transported predominantly by shoulder and elbow flexion/extension, although shoulder external/internal rotation also contributed in some tasks. The other DOF were used to orient the hand in space. The trailing pattern represented by production of net torque by passive torques at the shoulder or elbow or both was observed during the biggest portion of each movement. Net torque generation by muscle torque at both joints simultaneously was mainly limited to movement initiation toward the targets and movement termination when returning to the initial position, and associated with needing to overcome gravity. The results support the interpretation of previous studies that prevalence of the trailing pattern is a feature of skillful, coordinated movements. The simplicity of the trailing pattern is promising for quantification of dyscoordination caused by motor disorders and formulation of straightforward instructions to facilitate rehabilitation and motor learning.
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