Experienced and physiological fatigue in neuromuscular disorders

Clin Neurophysiol. 2007 Feb;118(2):292-300. doi: 10.1016/j.clinph.2006.10.018. Epub 2006 Dec 12.


Objective: Fatigue has been described as a typical symptom of neurological diseases. It might be caused both by changes at the peripheral and at the central level. This study measured the level of experienced fatigue and physiological correlates of fatigue in three genetically defined neuromuscular disorders.

Methods: Sixty-five facioscapulohumeral dystrophy (FSHD), 79 classical myotonic dystrophy (DM), 73 hereditary motor and sensory neuropathy type I (HMSN) patients and 24 age-matched healthy controls made a 2-min sustained maximal voluntary contraction of the biceps brachii muscle. Experienced fatigue at the current moment was assessed with the abbreviated fatigue questionnaire just before the physiological measurement. Peripheral fatigue was quantified by comparing the amplitudes of an initial and a final stimulated force response during rest. Muscle fibre conduction velocity was determined from a 5-channel surface EMG recording in order to show peripheral changes during the contraction. Central aspects of fatigue were measured using superimposed electrical endplate stimulation.

Results: Patients showed an increased level of experienced fatigue. Total physiological and peripheral fatigue were smaller in patients compared to controls, and central fatigue was normal. The most interesting result of this study was the presence of a large central activation failure (CAF) in all groups of neuromuscular patients; they showed CAF values of 36-41% already directly at the start of sustained contraction, whereas the control group showed only 12%. CAF slightly correlated with the level of experienced fatigue just before the test.

Conclusions: The cause of the large CAF in patients is unclear. Reduced concentration, motivation or effort can lead to lower central activation. In neuromuscular patients especially fear of physical activity or fear to damage the muscle or nerve tissue may contribute. Besides, also physiological feedback mechanisms or changes at the motocortical level may be a cause of reduced central activation.

Significance: For the clinician it is important to know that experienced fatigue is part of the clinical spectrum of neuromuscular patients. Besides, the weakness in these patients is aggravated by reduced central activation. Potentially, both problems could be subject of an intervention.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Adult
  • Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease / diagnosis
  • Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease / physiopathology
  • Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease / psychology
  • Electromyography
  • Exercise Tolerance / physiology*
  • Feedback / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology
  • Muscle Fatigue / physiology*
  • Muscle Fibers, Skeletal / physiology
  • Muscle Weakness / diagnosis
  • Muscle Weakness / etiology
  • Muscle Weakness / physiopathology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology*
  • Muscular Dystrophy, Facioscapulohumeral / diagnosis
  • Muscular Dystrophy, Facioscapulohumeral / physiopathology
  • Muscular Dystrophy, Facioscapulohumeral / psychology
  • Myotonic Dystrophy / diagnosis
  • Myotonic Dystrophy / physiopathology
  • Myotonic Dystrophy / psychology
  • Neuromuscular Diseases / diagnosis
  • Neuromuscular Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Neuromuscular Diseases / psychology
  • Reference Values