The control and execution of movement could potentially be altered by the presence of stroke-induced weakness if muscles are incapable of generating sufficient power. The purpose of this study was to identify compensatory strategies during a forward (sagittal) reaching task for 20 persons with chronic stroke and 10 healthy age-matched controls. We hypothesized that the paretic anterior deltoid would be maximally activated (i.e., saturated) during a reaching task and that task completion would require activation of additional muscles, resulting in compensatory movements out of the sagittal plane. For reaching movements by control subjects, joint motion remained largely in the sagittal plane and hand trajectories were smooth and direct. Movement characteristics of the nonparetic arm of stroke subjects were similar to control subjects except for small increases in the abduction angle and the percentage that anterior deltoid was activated. In contrast, reaching movements of the paretic arm of stroke subjects were characterized by increased activation of all muscles, especially the lateral deltoid, in addition to the anterior deltoid, with resulting shoulder abduction power and segmented and indirect hand motion. For the paretic arm of stroke subjects, muscle and kinetic compensations increased with impairment severity and weaker muscles were used at a higher percentage of their available muscle activity. These results suggest that the inability to generate sufficient force with the typical agonists involved during a forward reaching task may necessitate compensatory muscle recruitment strategies to complete the task.
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