Skill transfer from symmetric and asymmetric bimanual training using a robotic system to single limb performance
Faculty of Electrical Engineering, University of Ljubljana, Trzaska 25, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia
Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation 2012, 9:43 doi:10.1186/1743-0003-9-43Published: 17 July 2012
Humans are capable of fast adaptation to new unknown dynamics that affect their movements. Such motor learning is also believed to be an important part of motor rehabilitation. Bimanual training can improve post-stroke rehabilitation outcome and is associated with interlimb coordination between both limbs. Some studies indicate partial transfer of skills among limbs of healthy individuals. Another aspect of bimanual training is the (a)symmetry of bimanual movements and how these affect motor learning and possibly post-stroke rehabilitation.
A novel bimanual 2-DOF robotic system was used for both bimanual and unimanual reaching movements. 35 young healthy adults participated in the study. They were divided into 5 test groups that performed movements under different conditions (bimanual or unimanual movements and symmetric or asymmetric bimanual arm loads). The subjects performed a simple tracking exercise with the bimanual system. The exercise was developed to stimulate motor learning by applying a velocity-dependent disturbance torque to the handlebar. Each subject performed 255 trials divided into three phases: baseline without disturbance torque, training phase with disturbance torque and evaluation phase with disturbance torque.
Performance was assessed with the maximal values of rotation errors of the handlebar. After exposure to disturbance torque, the errors decreased for both unimanual and bimanual training. Errors in unimanual evaluation following the bimanual training phase were not significantly different from errors in unimanual evaluation following unimanual training. There was no difference in performance following symmetric or asymmetric training. Changing the arm force symmetry during bimanual movements from asymmetric to symmetric had little influence on performance.
Subjects could adapt to an unknown disturbance torque that was changing the dynamics of the movements. The learning effect was present during both unimanual and bimanual training. Transfer of learned skills from bimanual training to unimanual movements was also observed, as bimanual training also improved single limb performance with the dominant arm. Changes of force symmetry did not have an effect on motor learning. As motor learning is believed to be an important mechanism of rehabilitation, our findings could be tested for future post-stroke rehabilitation systems.