The purpose of this study was to investigate changes in the surface electromyographic (EMG) signal as a means of defining age-related central and peripheral mechanisms affecting muscle fatigue. Spectral and temporal variables of the surface EMG signal were studied during voluntary isometric contractions of the dominant biceps brachii muscle in a group of 8 healthy elderly men (age range 67-86 years) and a group of 10 healthy young men (age range 23-34 years). The maximal torque developed and the rate of decrease (slope) of spectral variables and conduction velocity (CV) were statistically higher in the young subjects than in the elderly subjects. Motor unit (MU) CV distribution was also estimated from the surface EMG signal and no statistical difference was observed in its variance between the two groups. These results confirm previous findings from the tibialis anterior muscle. Thus, changes in fiber type distribution and decrease in MU firing rate with aging may be factors determining the decrease in maximal voluntary contraction torque and in myoelectric manifestations of muscle fatigue.
Copyright 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.