The purpose of this study was to assess cortical activation associated with the cross-education effect to an immobilized limb, using functional magnetic resonance imaging.
Fourteen right-handed participants were assigned to two groups. One group (n = 7) wore a cast and strength trained the free arm (CAST-TRAIN). The second group (n = 7) wore a cast and did not strength train (CAST). Casts were applied to the nondominant (left) wrist and hand. Strength training was maximal isometric handgrip contractions (right hand) 5 d·wk−1. Peak force (handgrip dynamometer), muscle thickness (ultrasound), EMG, and cortical activation (functional magnetic resonance imaging) were assessed before and after the intervention.
CAST-TRAIN improved right handgrip strength by 10.7% (P < 0.01) with no change in muscle thickness. There was a significant group × time interaction for strength of the immobilized arm (P < 0.05). Handgrip strength of the immobilized arm of CAST-TRAIN was maintained, whereas the immobilized arm of CAST significantly decreased by 11% (P < 0.05). Muscle thickness of the immobilized arm decreased by an average of 3.3% (P < 0.05) for all participants and was not different between groups after adjusting for baseline differences. There was a significant group × time interaction for EMG activation (P < 0.05), where CAST-TRAIN showed an increasing trend and CAST showed a decreasing trend, pooled across arms. For the immobilized arm of CAST-TRAIN, there was a significant increase in contralateral motor cortex activation after training (P < 0.05). For the immobilized arm of CAST, there was no change in motor cortex activation.
Handgrip strength training of the free limb attenuated strength loss during unilateral immobilization. The maintenance of strength in the immobilized limb via the cross-education effect may be associated with increased motor cortex activation.
1College of Kinesiology, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, CANADA; and 2Department of Psychology, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, CANADA
Address for correspondence: Jonathan P. Farthing, Ph.D., College of Kinesiology, University of Saskatchewan, 87 Campus Dr., Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, S7N 5B2; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Submitted for publication September 2010.
Accepted for publication January 2011.