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Review
, 81 (4), 1725-89

Spinal and Supraspinal Factors in Human Muscle Fatigue

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Review

Spinal and Supraspinal Factors in Human Muscle Fatigue

S C Gandevia. Physiol Rev.

Abstract

Muscle fatigue is an exercise-induced reduction in maximal voluntary muscle force. It may arise not only because of peripheral changes at the level of the muscle, but also because the central nervous system fails to drive the motoneurons adequately. Evidence for "central" fatigue and the neural mechanisms underlying it are reviewed, together with its terminology and the methods used to reveal it. Much data suggest that voluntary activation of human motoneurons and muscle fibers is suboptimal and thus maximal voluntary force is commonly less than true maximal force. Hence, maximal voluntary strength can often be below true maximal muscle force. The technique of twitch interpolation has helped to reveal the changes in drive to motoneurons during fatigue. Voluntary activation usually diminishes during maximal voluntary isometric tasks, that is central fatigue develops, and motor unit firing rates decline. Transcranial magnetic stimulation over the motor cortex during fatiguing exercise has revealed focal changes in cortical excitability and inhibitability based on electromyographic (EMG) recordings, and a decline in supraspinal "drive" based on force recordings. Some of the changes in motor cortical behavior can be dissociated from the development of this "supraspinal" fatigue. Central changes also occur at a spinal level due to the altered input from muscle spindle, tendon organ, and group III and IV muscle afferents innervating the fatiguing muscle. Some intrinsic adaptive properties of the motoneurons help to minimize fatigue. A number of other central changes occur during fatigue and affect, for example, proprioception, tremor, and postural control. Human muscle fatigue does not simply reside in the muscle.

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