Attempted rapid elbow flexion movements in patients with athetosis.
Voluntary rapid elbow flexion movements were studied in 14 patients with athetosis on the basis of cerebral palsy. When the movement was attempted with one arm, other muscles inappropriate for the task, such as muscles in the opposite limb, were also activated. EMG activity of the biceps and triceps was analysed in detail, and the patterns seen in the different patients were divided into six groups: (1) The normal "ballistic" triphasic pattern, with bursts of normal duration, alternating in biceps and triceps, but the triceps might be activated first, causing the limb to extend rather than flex, (2) The triphasic pattern, with bursts of long duration, (3) Repetitive cycles of the triphasic pattern with particularly long antagonist bursts, apparently limiting the movement in each cycle, (4) Long bursts synchronous in agonist and antagonist muscles, (5) Continuous activity of the agonist, with reduction in activity of the antagonist, (6) Failure to be able to do the task. The pathophysiology of athetosis is that voluntary movement is characterised by excessive muscular activity, most prominently in inappropriate muscles, both extraneous to the task and directly antagonistic.