Experimental muscle pain increases trapezius muscle activity during sustained isometric contractions of arm muscles

Clin Neurophysiol. 2004 Aug;115(8):1767-78. doi: 10.1016/j.clinph.2004.03.005.


Objective: In the present study, the influence of experimental muscle pain on muscle co-ordination and fatigue development during sustained isometric elbow flexion was investigated.

Methods: Conventional surface electromyography (EMG) was recorded from the biceps brachii, brachioradialis, deltoideus and trapezius muscle during isometric elbow flexion at 40% maximum force. Single motor unit (MU) conduction velocity in the biceps brachii was assessed using a high spatial resolution surface EMG technique. Measurements were performed on 15 healthy subjects before, during and after (1) injection of hypertonic (pain condition) and (2) isotonic saline (control) into the biceps brachii. The pain intensity was assessed on a 10 cm visual analogue scale.

Results: The experimental results showed in both experimental sessions a fatigue-related increase of the root mean square value of EMG (222+/-164% of the baseline), and a decrease of the median frequency (118+/-16% of the baseline) in all investigated muscles. A maximum pain level of in average 3.2 cm on the visual analogue scale was reached after injection of hypertonic saline during contraction. Differences between painful and control condition were seen in an increased trapezius activity (230+/-141%) during pain. The global EMG activity of the brachioradialis and biceps brachii was unaffected by experimental muscle pain in line with unaffected single MU conduction velocity in the biceps brachii. Differences in endurance time (mean 89.3 and 102.3 s, pain and control, respectively) were not significant.

Conclusions/significance: The findings suggest that upper extremity pain could be a possible source for overloading the trapezius muscle and as such is an important factor in occupational settings.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Arm / physiology*
  • Electromyography / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Isometric Contraction / physiology*
  • Male
  • Muscle Fatigue / physiology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Statistics, Nonparametric