Alterations in upper limb muscle synergy structure in chronic stroke survivors

Jinsook Roh*, William Z. Rymer, Eric J. Perreault, Seng Bum Yoo, Randall F. Beer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

206 Scopus citations


Previous studies in neurologically intact subjects have shown that motor coordination can be described by task-dependent combinations of a few muscle synergies, defined here as a fixed pattern of activation across a set of muscles. Arm function in severely impaired stroke survivors is characterized by stereotypical postural and movement patterns involving the shoulder and elbow. Accordingly, we hypothesized that muscle synergy composition is altered in severely impaired stroke survivors. Using an isometric force matching protocol, we examined the spatial activation patterns of elbow and shoulder muscles in the affected arm of 10 stroke survivors (Fugl-Meyer <25/66) and in both arms of six age-matched controls. Underlying muscle synergies were identified using non-negative matrix factorization. In both groups, muscle activation patterns could be reconstructed by combinations of a few muscle synergies (typically 4). We did not find abnormal coupling of shoulder and elbow muscles within individual muscle synergies. In stroke survivors, as in controls, two of the synergies were comprised of isolated activation of the elbow flexors and extensors. However, muscle synergies involving proximal muscles exhibited consistent alterations following stroke. Unlike controls, the anterior deltoid was coactivated with medial and posterior deltoids within the shoulder abductor/extensor synergy and the shoulder adductor/flexor synergy in stroke was dominated by activation of pectoralis major, with limited anterior deltoid activation. Recruitment of the altered shoulder muscle synergies was strongly associated with abnormal task performance. Overall, our results suggest that an impaired control of the individual deltoid heads may contribute to poststroke deficits in arm function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)768-781
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2013


  • Electromyography
  • Motor control
  • Muscle synergy
  • Neurorehabilitation
  • Stroke

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Neuroscience(all)


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