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Interfering effects of the task demands of grip force and mental processing on isometric shoulder strength and muscle activity

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The purpose of this study was to examine the interfering effects of physical and mental tasks on shoulder isometric strength in different postures. Fifteen volunteers (seven women, eight men) performed a series of isometric shoulder exertions at 30°, 60° and 90° of both shoulder flexion and abduction alone and with the addition of a 30% grip force, a mental task (Stroop test) and both additional tasks simultaneously. The shoulder tasks were completed either at maximal intensity, or while maintaining a shoulder posture without any additional effort. Surface electromyography (EMG) from seven muscles of the shoulder girdle and shoulder moment were collected for each 6 s shoulder exertion. When normalized to maximum exertion, no differences were found between genders and no differences existed between conditions when subjects maintained each posture without exerted force. In the maximal shoulder exertion trials, an increase in shoulder angle (in either plane) resulted in an increase in EMG in most muscles, while shoulder moment decreased in flexion and remained constant in abduction. Shoulder moments and muscle activation were greatest in the shoulder exertion alone condition followed by adding a 30% grip and the Stroop test, with the addition of both tasks further reducing the exerted shoulder moment and EMG. However, muscle activity did not always decrease with shoulder strength and remained elevated, indicating a complex coactivation pattern produced by an interfering role of the tasks. Overall, it was found that a mental task can have the same or greater effect as a concurrent grip and should be considered when assessing muscular loading in the workplace, as typical biomechanical modelling may underestimate internal loads. The results not only provide valuable shoulder strength data but also practical strength values, depending on additional tasks.
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Keywords: Grip force; Multitasking; Shoulder moment; Shoulder muscle activity; Stroop test; Task interference

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: School of Kinesiology & Health Science, York University, 4700 Keele Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M3J 1P3

Publication date: December 15, 2005

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