In this study we investigate the coordination between rhythmic flexion-extension (FE) and supination-pronation (SP) movements at the elbow joint-complex, while manipulating the intersegmental dynamics by means of a 2-degrees of freedom (df) robot arm. We hypothesized that constraints imposed by the structure of the neuromuscular-skeletal system would (1) result in predominant pattern(s) of coordination in the absence of interaction torques and (2) influence the capabilities of participants to exploit artificially induced interaction torques. Two experiments were conducted in which different conditions of interaction torques were applied on the SP-axis as a function of FE movements. These conditions promoted different patterns of coordination between the 2-df. Control trials conducted in the absence of interaction torques revealed that both the in-phase (supination synchronized with flexion) and the anti-phase (pronation synchronized with flexion) patterns were spontaneously established by participants. The predominance of these patterns of coordination is explained in terms of the mechanical action of bi-articular muscles acting at the elbow joint-complex, and in terms of the reflexes that link the activity of the muscles involved. Results obtained in the different conditions of interaction torques revealed that those neuromuscular-skeletal constraints either impede or favor the exploitation of intersegmental dynamics depending on the context. Interaction torques were indeed found to be exploited to a greater extent in conditions in which the profiles of interaction torques favored one of the two predominant patterns of coordination (i.e., in-phase or anti-phase) as opposed to other patterns of coordination (e.g., 90 degrees or 270 degrees). Those results are discussed in relation to recent studies reporting exploitation of interaction torques in the context of rhythmic movements.
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