Smoothness is a hallmark of healthy movement. Past research indicates that smoothness may be a side product of a control strategy that minimizes error. However, this is not the only reason for smooth movements. Our musculoskeletal system itself contributes to movement smoothness: the mechanical impedance (inertia, damping, and stiffness) of our limbs and joints resists sudden change, resulting in a natural smoothing effect. How the biomechanics and neural control interact to result in an observed level of smoothness is not clear. The purpose of this study is to 1) characterize the smoothness of wrist rotations, 2) compare it with the smoothness of planar shoulder-elbow (reaching) movements, and 3) determine the cause of observed differences in smoothness. Ten healthy subjects performed wrist and reaching movements involving different targets, directions, and speeds. We found wrist movements to be significantly less smooth than reaching movements and to vary in smoothness with movement direction. To identify the causes underlying these observations, we tested a number of hypotheses involving differences in bandwidth, signal-dependent noise, speed, impedance anisotropy, and movement duration. Our simulations revealed that proximal-distal differences in smoothness reflect proximal-distal differences in biomechanics: the greater impedance of the shoulder-elbow filters neural noise more than the wrist. In contrast, differences in signal-dependent noise and speed were not sufficiently large to recreate the observed differences in smoothness. We also found that the variation in wrist movement smoothness with direction appear to be caused by, or at least correlated with, differences in movement duration, not impedance anisotropy.
NEW & NOTEWORTHY This article presents the first thorough characterization of the smoothness of wrist rotations (flexion-extension and radial-ulnar deviation) and comparison with the smoothness of reaching (shoulder-elbow) movements. We found wrist rotations to be significantly less smooth than reaching movements and determined that this difference reflects proximal-distal differences in biomechanics: the greater impedance (inertia, damping, stiffness) of the shoulder-elbow filters noise in the command signal more than the impedance of the wrist.
- Copyright © 2017 the American Physiological Society
Please sign in below with your personal user name and password.