Purpose: In facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD) fatigue is a major complaint. We aimed to investigate whether during isometric sustained elbow flexions, performance fatigability indexes differ in patients with FSHD with respect to healthy controls. Methods: Seventeen patients with FSHD and seventeen healthy controls performed two isometric flexions of the dominant biceps brachii at 20% of their maximal voluntary contraction (MVC) for 2 min and then at 60% MVC until exhaustion. Muscle weakness was characterized as a percentage of predicted values. Maximal voluntary strength, endurance time and performance fatigability indices (mean frequency of the power spectrum (MNF), muscle fiber conduction velocity (CV) and fractal dimension (FD)), extracted from the surface electromyogram signal (sEMG) were compared between the two groups. Results: In patients with FSHD, maximal voluntary strength was 68.7% of predicted value (p < 0.01). Compared to healthy controls, FSHD patients showed reduced MVC (p < 0.001; r = 0.62) and lower levels of performance fatigability, characterized by reduced rate of changes in MNF (p < 0.01; r = 0.56), CV (p < 0.05; 0.37) and FD (p < 0.001; r = 0.51) and increased endurance time (p < 0.001; r = 0.63), during the isometric contraction at 60% MVC. Conclusion: A decreased reduction in the slopes of all the considered sEMG parameters during sustained isometric elbow flexions suggests that patients with FSHD experience lower levels of performance fatigability compared to healthy controls.
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