Fingertip forces result from the activation of muscles that cross the wrist and muscles whose origins and insertions reside within the hand (extrinsic and intrinsic hand muscles, respectively). Thus, tasks that involve changes in wrist angle affect the moment arm and length, hence the force-producing capabilities, of extrinsic muscles only. If a grasping task requires the exertion of constant fingertip forces, the Central Nervous System (CNS) may respond to changes in wrist angle by modulating the neural drive to extrinsic or intrinsic muscles only or by co-activating both sets of muscles. To distinguish between these scenarios, we recorded electromyographic (EMG) activity of intrinsic and extrinsic muscles of the thumb and index finger as a function of wrist angle during a two-digit object hold task. We hypothesized that changes in wrist angle would elicit EMG amplitude modulation of the extrinsic and intrinsic hand muscles. In one experimental condition we asked subjects to exert the same digit forces at each wrist angle, whereas in a second condition subjects could choose digit forces for holding the object. EMG activity was significantly modulated in both extrinsic and intrinsic muscles as a function of wrist angle (both p<0.05) but only for the constant force condition. Furthermore, EMG modulation resulted from uniform scaling of EMG amplitude across all muscles. We conclude that the CNS controlled both extrinsic and intrinsic muscles as a muscle synergy. These findings are discussed within the theoretical frameworks of synergies and common neural input across motor nuclei of hand muscles.
- Muscle length
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