We investigated the effects of exercise-induced fatigue of a digit on the biomechanics of a static prehension task. The participants were divided into two groups. One group performed the fatiguing exercise using the thumb (group-thumb) and the second group performed the exercise using the index finger (group-index). We analyzed the prehensile action as being based on a two-level hierarchy. Our first hypothesis was that fatigue of the thumb would have stronger effects at the upper level (action shared between the thumb and all four fingers combined-virtual finger) and fatigue of the index finger would have stronger effects at the lower level of the hierarchy (action of the virtual finger shared among actual fingers). We also hypothesized that fatigue would cause a decrease in the normal force applied by the exercised digit and correspondingly lead to a decrease in the normal force applied by the opposing digit(s). Our third hypothesis was that fatigue would leave the tangential forces unaffected. Fatigue led to a significant drop in the normal force of both exercised and non-exercised (opposing) digits. The tangential forces of the exercised digits increased after fatigue. This led to a drop in the safety margin in the group-thumb, but not group-index. As such, the results supported the first two hypotheses but not the third hypothesis. Overall, the results suggested that fatigue triggered a chain reaction that involved both forces and moments of force produced by individual digits leading to a violation of the principle of superposition. The findings are interpreted within the framework of the referent configuration hypothesis.
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