Similarities in the Neural Control of the Shoulder and Elbow Joints Belie Their Structural Differences

Andrew R. Karduna, Robert L. Sainburg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Movement of the hand in three dimensional space is primarily controlled by the orientation of the shoulder and elbow complexes. Due to discrepancies in proprioceptive acuity, overlap in motor cortex representation and grossly different anatomies between these joints, we hypothesized that there would be differences in the accuracy of aimed movements between the two joints. Fifteen healthy young adults were tested under four conditions - shoulder motion with the elbow constrained and unconstrained, and elbow motion with the shoulder constrained and unconstrained. End point target locations for each joint were set to coincide with joint excursions of 10, 20 or 30 degrees of either the shoulder or elbow joint. Targets were presented in a virtual reality environment. For the constrained condition, there were no significant differences in angular errors between the two joints, suggesting that the central nervous system represents linked segment models of the limb in planning and controlling movements. For the unconstrained condition, although angle errors were higher, hand position errors remained the same as those of the constrained trials. These results support the idea that the CNS utilizes abundant degrees of freedom to compensate for the potentially different contributions to end-point errors introduced by each joint.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere45837
JournalPloS one
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 17 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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