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The assessment of the extent of involvement of the distal and proximal joints in a complex arm tremor is important clinically, as tremor generated around the distal and proximal arm joints can be differentially alleviated by surgical intervention to the thalamic and subthalamic targets, respectively. We observed that the tremor present in spiral drawings shows a diagonal directional preference. We hypothesized that the directional preference of tremor within spiral drawings could be related to the involvement of different arm joints. In this study, we tested this hypothesis by: (1) studying simulated tremulous drawings performed by healthy subjects with the joints selectively restrained; (2) recording surface EMGs from the forearm extensor and deltoid muscles during drawing; and (3) mathematical modelling the kinematics of the arm in 2D drawings. Our data showed that a "main diagonal" axis of orientation of the tremor along the orientation of the forearm indicates a predominantly proximal tremor driven by the shoulder, and a "cross diagonal" axis of orientation of tremor (i.e. perpendicular to the forearm) indicates that the tremor is predominantly distal and driven by the elbow or wrist. We conclude that the spiral drawing task can be used as an objective and quantitative method for differentiating the involvement of the proximal and distal arm joints in complex arm tremors.

Original publication




Journal article


Neurosci Lett

Publication Date





188 - 192


Activity Cycles, Arm, Computer Simulation, Electromyography, Humans, Joints, Musculoskeletal System, Psychomotor Performance, Tremor