The development of rhythm regularity, neuromuscular strategies, and movement smoothness during repetitive reaching in typically developing children
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INTRODUCTION: This study examined the development of paced coordinated reaching characterized by the successful entrainment of the movement to an external pacer, synchronous muscle activations and movement smoothness. METHODS: Thirty children, 5-10 years of age, and ten adults were instructed to repeatedly reach for and move an object from a lower shelf to an upper shelf in time to a metronome. Surface electromyography data were recorded. Amplitude and cross-correlations were calculated on three muscle pairs crossing the shoulder and elbow. A motion capture system captured the space curve accelerations of hand, forearm and upper arm segments to quantify movement smoothness. RESULTS: The 5-6 year old children showed the greatest amount of temporal variability, followed by 7-10 year olds and then the adults. Correlations between muscle pairs stabilizing the shoulder girdle were higher in each group as compared to the other two muscle pairs but the correlations for all pairs were consistently higher for adults. Movement smoothness for children 9-10 years of age was closer to an adult-like pattern with respect to control of the upper arm, but the hand segment had the greatest variability across groups. CONCLUSIONS: The increased temporal variability and decreased movement smoothness of the hand and forearm segments suggest that control of more distal musculature may be more difficult in children. The neuromuscular strategies adopted by adults were more optimal than those adopted by children as reflected by smoother and more consistent reaching.
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