Experimental Muscle Pain Impairs the Synergistic Modular Control of Neck Muscles

Leonardo Gizzi, Silvia Muceli, Frank Petzke, Deborah Falla

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42 Citations (Scopus)
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A motor task can be performed via different patterns of muscle activation that show regularities that can be factorized in combinations of a reduced number of muscle groupings (also referred to as motor modules, or muscle synergies). In this study we evaluate whether an acute noxious stimulus induces a change in the way motor modules are combined to generate movement by neck muscles. The neck region was selected as it is a region with potentially high muscular redundancy. We used the motor modules framework to assess the redistribution of muscular activity of 12 muscles (6 per side) in the neck region of 8 healthy individuals engaged in a head and neck aiming task, in non-painful conditions (baseline, isotonic saline injection, post pain) and after the injection of hypertonic saline into the right splenius capitis muscle. The kinematics of the task was similar in the painful and control conditions. A general decrease of activity was noted for the injected muscle during the painful condition together with an increase or decrease of the activity of the other muscles. Subjects did not adopt shared control strategies (motor modules inter subject similarity at baseline 0.73±0.14); the motor modules recorded during the painful condition could not be used to reconstruct the activation patterns of the control conditions, and the painful stimulus triggered a subject-specific redistribution of muscular activation (i.e., in some subjects the activity of a given muscle increased, whereas in other subjects it decreased with pain). Alterations of afferent input (i.e., painful stimulus) influenced motor control at a multi muscular level, but not kinematic output. These findings provide new insights into the motor adaptation to pain.

Original languageEnglish
Article number0137844
Number of pages19
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 18 Sept 2015


  • Adult
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Electromyography
  • Humans
  • Motor Activity
  • Muscle Contraction
  • Myalgia
  • Neck Muscles
  • Neck Pain
  • Young Adult


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