The delicate tuning of digit forces to object properties can be disrupted by a number of neurological and musculoskeletal diseases. One such condition is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS), a compression neuropathy of the median nerve that causes sensory and motor deficits in a subset of digits in the hand. Whereas the effects of CTS on median nerve physiology are well understood, the extent to which it affects whole-hand manipulation remains to be addressed. CTS affects only the lateral three and a half digits, which raises the question of how the central nervous system integrates sensory feedback from affected and unaffected digits to plan and execute whole-hand object manipulation. We addressed this question by asking CTS patients and healthy controls to grasp, lift, and hold a grip device (445, 545, or 745 g) for several consecutive trials. We found that CTS patients were able to successfully adapt grip force to object weight. However, multi-digit force coordination in patients was characterized by lower discrimination of force modulation to lighter object weights, higher across-trial digit force variability, the consistent use of excessively large digit forces across consecutive trials, and a lower ability to minimize net moments on the object. Importantly, the mechanical requirement of attaining equilibrium of forces and torques caused CTS patients to exert excessive forces at both CTS-affected digits and digits with intact sensorimotor capabilities. These findings suggest that CTS-induced deficits in tactile sensitivity interfere with the formation of accurate sensorimotor memories of previous manipulations. Consequently, CTS patients use compensatory strategies to maximize grasp stability at the expense of exerting consistently larger multi-digit forces than controls. These behavioral deficits might be particularly detrimental for tasks that require fine regulation of fingertip forces for manipulating light or fragile objects.
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