Fingertip force control requires fine coordination of multiple hand muscles within and across the digits. While the modulation of neural drive to hand muscles as a function of force has been extensively studied, much less is known about the effects of fatigue on the coordination of simultaneously active hand muscles. We asked eight subjects to perform a fatiguing contraction by gripping a manipulandum with thumb, index, and middle fingers while matching an isometric target force (40% maximal voluntary force) for as long as possible. The coordination of 12 hand muscles was quantified as electromyographic (EMG) muscle activation pattern (MAP) vector and EMG-EMG coherence. We hypothesized that muscle fatigue would cause uniform changes in EMG amplitudeacross all muscles and an increase in EMG-EMG coherence in the higher frequency bands but with an invariant heterogeneous distribution across muscles. Muscle fatigue caused a 12.5% drop in the maximum voluntary contraction force (P < 0.05) at task failure and an increase in the SD of force (P < 0.01). Although EMG amplitude of all muscles increased during the fatiguing contraction (P < 0.001), the MAP vector orientation did not change, indicating that a similar muscle coordination pattern was used throughout the fatiguing contraction. Last, EMG-EMG coherence (0-35 Hz) was significantly greater at the end than at the beginning of the fatiguing contraction (P < 0.01) but was heterogeneously distributed across hand muscles. These findings suggest that similar mechanisms are involved for modulating and sustaining digit forces in nonfatiguing and fatiguing contractions, respectively.
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