Age-related muscle fatigue after a low-force fatiguing contraction is explained by central fatigue
Muscle and Nerve
The contribution of central fatigue during and after low- and high-force isometric contractions sustained until failure with age is not established. We compared the time to failure and changes in voluntary activation measured using motor point stimulation of 15 young and 15 old adults for an isometric contraction sustained with the elbow flexor muscles at 20% and 80% of maximal voluntary contraction (MVC) force. Young adults had a briefer time to task failure than old adults for the 20% MVC fatiguing contraction, but a similar duration for the 80% task. Voluntary activation was reduced at the end of the 20% MVC task, but by greater magnitudes for old than young adults. The reduction in MVC torque after the low-force task was associated with the reduction in voluntary activation. After the 80% task, voluntary activation declined to similar levels for the young and old adults. Electromyographic activity levels (% MVC) of the biceps brachii and brachioradialis muscles during the fatiguing contraction were greater for the old than young for the 20% MVC task, but similar with age for the 80% MVC task. Our findings indicate that intensity and duration of contraction can be manipulated in young and old adults to induce varying magnitudes of fatigue within the central nervous system. Aging increases: (1) fatigue within the central nervous system immediately after a low-force fatiguing contraction, and (2) the potential for large neural adaptations during neuromuscular rehabilitation in old adults.