Timing and magnitude of electromyographic activity for two-joint arm movements in different directions

G. M. Karst, Z. Hasan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

110 Scopus citations


1. We studied electromyographic (EMG) and kinematic features of self-paced human arm movements involving rotations about the shoulder and elbow joints. Movements were initiated from various positions and covered much of the reachable work space in the horizontal plane. The attempt was to characterize robust features of the relative timing and magnitude of the EMG activity at the two joints, and to correlate them with variables related to the initial and final positions. 2. The pattern of muscle activity at each joint was typically characterized by bursts of alternating agonist and antagonist activity, comparable with the three-burst pattern associated with single- joint movements. As the spatial direction of the target was altered, the magnitude of each burst was modulated over a continuous range. Modulation down to zero activity was observed, not only for later bursts, as has been shown in some cases of single-joint movements, but for the first agonist burst as well. 3. In the preceding paper we showed that the choice of agonists (i.e., flexors or extensors) at each joint is predictable on the basis of the target direction relative to the distal segment (ψ). Here, we present quantitative analyses of initial agonist EMG activity at the shoulder and elbow, which reveal that the onset-time difference between agonists at the two joints also varied systematically with ψ, and so did their relative magnitude. 4. For most target directions, initial EMG activity at the shoulder preceded that at the elbow by 5-40 ms. Exceptions were observed mainly for target directions near the transitions between initial flexor and initial extensor activity at the shoulder. In these cases the initial agonist activity at the shoulder was greatly reduced or, in some cases, appeared entirely suppressed, although the later bursts were present in their usual temporal alignment with the corresponding bursts at the elbow. 5. Antagonist onset at the elbow tended to precede antagonist onset at the shoulder, but the difference in timing did not vary consistently with ψ. 6. Despite the consistency of initial agonist timing between the two joints, the agonist onset-time difference was poorly correlated with the apparent difference in the onset times of shoulder and elbow joint rotations. The latter difference, which is affected by mechanics, cannot therefore be imputed directly to the CNS. 7. Over a large range of initial and final positions, the direction of the final position relative to the initial orientation of the forearm appears to be an important variable for the determination by the CNS of which muscles to activate first at each joint, as well as the relative timing and magnitude of that initial activity. These findings are compatible with a control scheme for initiating limb movements in which the CNS employs relatively simple rules to choose a basic motor output pattern.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1594-1604
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1991
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Physiology


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