The relation between limb stiffness and postural tremor in the upper arm was investigated during a pointing task. The task goal was to minimize the amount of motion (tremor) at the index finger under levels of increasing limb stiffness. This study investigated the influence of increasing limb stiffness on the pattern of intra- and interlimb dynamics. The frequency profile of the tremor for all limb segments across all conditions displayed two peaks, one between 2-4 Hz and another between 8-12 Hz. A third, higher frequency component (20-22 Hz) was present in the index finger. Increasing limb stiffness through voluntary co-contraction of antagonistic muscle pairs effectively constrained the segments of the upper limb to increasingly operate as a single biomechanical degree of freedom. Higher levels of limb stiffness typically led to an increase in the frequency and power of the 2-4 and 8-12 Hz peaks. There was also a decrease in the frequency of the 20-22 Hz component of finger tremor. The act of reducing the effective degrees of freedom in joint space through voluntarily stiffening of the upper limbs also resulted in decreased performance as determined by an increase in finger tremor. In the preferred, natural level of limb stiffness, specific intralimb segment relations were observed but there was no significant interlimb coupling. The intralimb segment correlations were characterized by compensatory (out of phase) coupling between the upper arm/forearm and hand/index finger segment pairs of each limb that were organized about the action of the wrist joint. Increasing the degree of limb stiffness led to a decrease in the level of intralimb coupling. The findings suggest that the most efficient mechanism for reducing tremor at the periphery is that of compensatory coupling between relevant intralimb segments with a low level of limb stiffness.
Steven Morrison is with the School of Physiotherapy & Exercise Science, Gold Coast Campus Griffith Univ., PMB 50 Gold Coast Mail Ctr, Queensland 9276 Australia. Karl M. Newell is with the Dept. of Kinesiology at The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802.