Evidence for altered upper extremity muscle synergies in chronic stroke survivors with mild and moderate impairment

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Abstract

Previous studies indicate that motor coordination may be achieved by assembling task-dependent combinations of a few muscle synergies, defined here as fixed patterns of activation across a set of muscles. Our recent study of severely impaired chronic stroke survivors showed that some muscle synergies underlying isometric force generation at the hand are altered in the affected arm. However, whether similar alterations are evident in stroke survivors with lesser impairment remains unclear. Accordingly, we examined muscle synergies underlying spatial patterns of elbow and shoulder muscle activation recorded during an isometric force target matching protocol performed by 16 chronic stroke survivors, evenly divided across mild and moderate impairment levels. We applied non-negative matrix factorization to identify the muscle synergies and compared their structure across groups, including previously collected data from six age-matched control subjects and eight severely impaired stroke survivors. For all groups, EMG spatial patterns were well explained by task-dependent combinations of only a few (typically 4) muscle synergies. Broadly speaking, elbow-related synergies were conserved across stroke survivors, regardless of impairment level. In contrast, the shoulder-related synergies of some stroke survivors with mild and moderate impairment differed from controls, in a manner similar to severely impaired subjects. Cluster analysis of pooled synergies for the 30 subjects identified seven distinct clusters (synergies). Subsequent analysis confirmed that the incidences of three elbow-related synergies were independent of impairment level, while the incidences of four shoulder-related synergies were systematically correlated with impairment level. Overall, our results suggest that alterations in the shoulder muscle synergies underlying isometric force generation appear prominently in mild and moderate stroke, as in most cases of severe stroke, in an impairment level-dependent manner.

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Roh, J., Rymer, W. Z., & Beer, R. F. (2015). Evidence for altered upper extremity muscle synergies in chronic stroke survivors with mild and moderate impairment. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 9(FEB). https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2015.00006

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