The Role of Muscle Fatigue on Movement Timing and Stability during Repetitive Tasks
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Repetitive stress injuries are common in the workplace where workers perform repetitive tasks continuously throughout the day. Muscle fatigue may lead to injury either directly through muscle damage or indirectly through changes in coordination, development of muscle imbalances, kinematic and muscle activation variability, and/or movement instability. To better understand the role of muscle fatigue in changes in movement parameters, we studied how muscle fatigue and muscle imbalances affected the control of movement timing, variability, and stability during a repetitive upper extremity sawing task. Since muscle fatigue leads to delayed muscle and cognitive response times, we might expect the ability to maintain movement timing would decline with muscle fatigue. We compared timing errors pre- and post-fatigue as subjects performed this repetitive sawing task synchronized with a metronome using standard techniques and a goal-equivalent manifold (GEM) approach. No differences in basic performance parameters were found. Significant decreases in the temporal correlations of the timing errors and velocities indicated that subjects made more frequent corrections to their movements post-fatigue. Muscle fatigue may lead to movement instability through a variety of mechanisms including delayed muscle response times and muscle imbalances. To measure movement stability, we must first define a state space that describes the movement. We compared a variety of different state space definitions and found that state spaces composed of angles and velocities with little redundant information provide the most consistent results. We then studied the affect of fatigue on the shoulder flexor muscles and general fatigue of the arm on movement stability. Subjects were able to maintain stability in spite of muscle fatigue, shoulder strength imbalance and decreased muscle cocontraction. Little is known about the time course for adaptations in response to fatigue. We studied the effect of muscle fatigue on movement coordination, kinematic variability and movement stability while subjects performed the same sawing task at two work heights. Increasing the height of the task caused subjects to make more adjustments to their movement patterns in response to muscle fatigue. Subjects also exhibited some increases in kinematic variability at the shoulder but no changes in movement stability. These findings suggest that people alter their kinematic patterns in response to fatigue possibly to maintain stability at the expense of increased variability.