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Bilateral reach-to-grasp movement asymmetries after human spinal cord injury.


Cervical spinal cord injury (SCI) in humans typically damages both sides of the spinal cord, resulting in asymmetric functional impairments in the arms. Despite this well-accepted notion and the growing emphasis on the use of bimanual training strategies, how movement of one arm affects the motion of the contralateral arm after SCI remains unknown. Using kinematics and multichannel electromyographic (EMG) recordings we studied unilateral and bilateral reach-to-grasp movements to a small and a large cylinder in individuals with asymmetric arm impairments due to cervical SCI and age-matched control subjects. We found that the stronger arm of SCI subjects showed movement durations longer than control subjects during bilateral compared with unilateral trials. Specifically, movement duration was prolonged when opening and closing the hand when reaching for a large and a small object, respectively, accompanied by deficient activation of finger flexor and extensor muscles. In subjects with SCI interlimb coordination was reduced compared with control subjects, and individuals with lesser coordination between hands were those who showed prolonged times to open the hand. Although the weaker arm showed movement durations during bilateral compared with unilateral trials that were proportional to controls, the stronger arm was excessively delayed during bilateral reaching. Altogether, our findings demonstrate that during bilateral reach-to-grasp movements the more impaired arm has detrimental effects on hand opening and closing of the less impaired arm and that they are related, at least in part, to deficient control of EMG activity of hand muscles. We suggest that hand opening might provide a time to drive bimanual coordination adjustments after human SCI.