Don’t forget the trunk in Duchenne muscular dystrophy patients: more muscle weakness and compensation than expected

Peeters LHC, Kingma I, van Dieen JH, de Groot IJM. Don’t forget the trunk in Duchenne muscular dystrophy patients: more muscle weakness and compensation than expected. Journal of neuroengineering and rehabilitation 2019;16:44.

Peeters_2019_J Neuroeng Rehabil. Mar 27;16(1);44



BACKGROUND: Performing daily activities independently becomes more difficult in time for patients with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) due to muscle weakness. When performing seated daily activities, the trunk plays an indispensable role besides the upper extremities. However, knowledge is lacking on the interaction between trunk and upper extremities. Therefore the aim was to investigate whether patients with DMD use trunk movement to compensate for reduced arm function when performing seated tasks, and whether this is related to increased muscle activity.

METHODS: Eighteen boys with DMD and twenty-five healthy controls (HC) performed several tasks when sitting unsupported, like reaching (and placing) forward and sideward, drinking and displacing a dinner plate. Maximum joint torque and maximum surface electromyography (sEMG) were measured during maximum voluntary isometric contractions. Three-dimensional movements and normalized sEMG when performing tasks were analyzed.

RESULTS: Significantly decreased maximum joint torque was found in DMD patients compared to HC. Trunk and shoulder torques were already decreased in early disease stages. However, only maximum trunk rotation and shoulder abduction torque showed a significant association with Brooke scale. In all reaching and daily tasks, the range of motion in lateral bending and/or flexion-extension was significantly larger in DMD patients compared to HC. The trunk movements did not significantly increase with task difficulty (e.g. increasing object weight) or Brooke scale. Normalized muscle activity was significantly higher in DMD patients for all tasks and muscles.

CONCLUSIONS: Boys with DMD use increased trunk movements to compensate for reduced arm function, even when performing relatively simple tasks. This was combined with significantly increased normalized muscle activity. Clinicians should take the trunk into account when assessing function and for intervention development, because DMD patients may appear to have a good trunk function, but percentage of muscle capacity used to perform tasks is increased.

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