Coordination of multi-joint arm movements in cerebellar ataxia: Analysis of hand and angular kinematics

Helge Topka, Jürgen Konczak, Johannes Dichgans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


Kinematic abnormalities of fast multijoint movements in cerebellar ataxia include abnormally increased curvature of hand trajectories and an increased hand path and are thought to originate from an impairment in generating appropriate levels of muscle torques to support normal coordination between shoulder and elbow joints. Such a mechanism predicts that kinematic abnormalities are pronounced when fast movements are performed and large muscular torques are required. Experimental evidence that systematically explores the effects of increasing movement velocities on movement kinematics in cerebellar multijoint movements is limited and to some extent contradictory. We, therefore, investigated angular and hand kinematics of natural multijoint pointing movements in patients with cerebellar degenerative disorders and healthy controls. Subjects performed self-paced vertical pointing movements with their right arms at three different target velocities. Limb movements were recorded in three-dimensional space using a two-camera infrared tracking system. Differences between patients and healthy subjects were most prominent when the subjects performed fast movements. Peak hand acceleration and deceleration were similar to normals during slow and moderate velocity movements but were smaller for fast movements. While altering movement velocities had little or no effect on the length of the hand path and angular motion of elbow and shoulder joints in normal subjects, the patients exhibited overshooting motions (hypermetria) of the hand and at both joints as movement velocity increased. Hypermetria at one joint always accompanied hypermetria at the neighboring joint. Peak elbow angular deceleration was markedly delayed in patients compared with normals. Other temporal movement variables such as the relative timing of shoulder and elbow joint motion onsets were normal in patients. Kinematic abnormalities of multijoint arm movements in cerebellar ataxia include hypermetria at both the elbow and the shoulder joint and, as a consequence, irregular and enlarged paths of the hand, and they are marked with fast but not with slow movements. Our findings suggest that kinematic movement abnormalities that characterize cerebellar limb ataxia are related to an impairment in scaling movement variables such as joint acceleration and deceleration normally with movement speed. Most likely, increased hand paths and decomposition of movement during slow movements, as described earlier, result from compensatory mechanisms the patients may employ if maximum movement accuracy is required.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)483-492
Number of pages10
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1998
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements We wish to thank Dr. M. Hallett for helpful comments and for critically reviewing this manuscript. This study was supported by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Science Foundation) SFB 307/A3.


  • Cerebellar ataxia
  • Human
  • Kinematics
  • Limb movement
  • Multijoint movement


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