Motor coordination
Motor coordination is the combination of body
Musculoskeletal system
A musculoskeletal system is an organ system that gives animals the ability to move using the muscular and skeletal systems...

 movements created with the kinematic (such as spatial direction) and kinetic (force) parameters
Movement parameter
In handwriting analysis a Movement parameter includes Slant, Orientation, Amplitude, Roundness .In kinesiology a Movement parameter is an adjustable scalar quantity to be specified in a motor system, i.e. movement-control system . Examples are: Velocity, Acceleration, Force, Stiffness....

 that result in intended action
Motor skill
A motor skill is a learned sequence of movements that combine to produce a smooth, efficient action in order to master a particular task. The development of motor skill occurs in the motor cortex, the region of the cerebral cortex that controls voluntary muscle groups.- Development of motor skills...

s. Such movements usually smoothly and efficiently work together. Motor coordination can occur between subsequent parts of the same movement and movements of several limb
Limb (anatomy)
A limb is a jointed, or prehensile , appendage of the human or other animal body....

s. Motor coordination involves the integration of processes ranging from how muscle
Muscle is a contractile tissue of animals and is derived from the mesodermal layer of embryonic germ cells. Muscle cells contain contractile filaments that move past each other and change the size of the cell. They are classified as skeletal, cardiac, or smooth muscles. Their function is to...

s interact with the skeletal system to neural process
Nervous system
The nervous system is an organ system containing a network of specialized cells called neurons that coordinate the actions of an animal and transmit signals between different parts of its body. In most animals the nervous system consists of two parts, central and peripheral. The central nervous...

es controlling them both in the spine
Spinal cord
The spinal cord is a long, thin, tubular bundle of nervous tissue and support cells that extends from the brain . The brain and spinal cord together make up the central nervous system...

 and the brain
The brain is the center of the nervous system in all vertebrate and most invertebrate animals—only a few primitive invertebrates such as sponges, jellyfish, sea squirts and starfishes do not have one. It is located in the head, usually close to primary sensory apparatus such as vision, hearing,...


Nonexact reproduction

Examples of motor coordination are the ease with which people can stand up, pour water into a glass, walk, and reach for a pen. These are created reliably, proficiently and repeatedly, but these movements rarely are reproduced exactly in their motor details, such as joint angles when pointing or standing up from sitting.


The complexity of motor coordination can be observed by the task of picking up a bottle of water and pouring it in a glass. This apparently simple task is actually a combination of complex tasks that are processed at different levels. The levels of processing include: (1) for the prehension movement to the bottle, the reach and hand configuration have to be coordinated, (2) when lifting the bottle, the load and the grip force applied by the fingers need to be coordinated to account for weight, fragility, and slippage of the glass, and (3) when pouring the water from the bottle to the glass, the actions of both arms, one holding the glass and the other that is pouring the water, need to be coordinated with each other. Additional levels of organization are required depending on whether the person will drink from the glass, give it to someone else, or simply put it on a table.

Degree of freedom problem

The problem with understanding motor coordination arises from the biomechanical
Biomechanics is the application of mechanical principles to biological systems, such as humans, animals, plants, organs, and cells. Perhaps one of the best definitions was provided by Herbert Hatze in 1974: "Biomechanics is the study of the structure and function of biological systems by means of...

 redundancy caused by the large number of musculoskeletal elements involved. These different elements create many degrees of freedom by which any action can be done because of the range of ways of arranging, turning, extending and combining the various muscles, joints, and limbs in a motor task. Several hypotheses have been developed in explanation of how the nervous system determines a particular solution from a large set of possible solutions that can accomplish the task or motor goal
Motor goal
A motor goal is a neurally planned motor outcome that is used to organize motor control.Motor goals are experimentally shown to exist since planned movements can when disrupted adjust to achieve their planned outcome...

s equally well.

Muscle synergies

Nikolai Bernstein
Nikolai Bernstein
Nikolai Aleksandrovich Bernstein was a Soviet neurophysiologist.-Life:Bernstein was largely self-taught, yet his work was respected by his colleagues....

 proposed the existence of muscle synergies as a neural strategy of simplifying the control of multiple degrees of freedom. A functional muscle synergy is defined as a pattern of co-activation of muscles recruited by a single neural command signal. One muscle can be part of multiple muscle synergies, and one synergy can activate multiple muscles. The current method of finding muscle synergies is to measure EMG
Electromyography is a technique for evaluating and recording the electrical activity produced by skeletal muscles. EMG is performed using an instrument called an electromyograph, to produce a record called an electromyogram. An electromyograph detects the electrical potential generated by muscle...

Electromyography is a technique for evaluating and recording the electrical activity produced by skeletal muscles. EMG is performed using an instrument called an electromyograph, to produce a record called an electromyogram. An electromyograph detects the electrical potential generated by muscle...

) signals from all muscles involved in a certain movement so that specific patterns of muscle activation can be identified. A few muscle synergies are combined at different proportions to form a continuum of muscle activation pattern for smooth motor control during various tasks. These synergies work together to cause movements such as walking or balance control when a perturbation is applied. Directionality of a movement has an effect on how the motor task is performed (i.e. walking forward vs. walking backward, each uses different levels of contraction in different muscles). Researchers measure EMG signals for perturbation
Perturbation (biology)
A perturbation of a biological system is an alteration of function, induced by external or internal mechanisms. Biological systems can be perturbed through a number of means...

 applied in multiple directions in order to identify all the possible muscle synergies that are present.

Initially, it was thought that the muscle synergies eliminated the redundant degrees of freedom  by constraining the movements of certain joints or muscles. However, it has been shown that constraining the movement of certain joints and muscles requires more energy and neural commands, and hence increases the number of neural signals required to perform the task.

Uncontrolled Manifold Hypothesis

A more recent hypothesis propose that the central nervous system
Central nervous system
The central nervous system is the part of the nervous system that integrates the information that it receives from, and coordinates the activity of, all parts of the bodies of bilaterian animals—that is, all multicellular animals except sponges and radially symmetric animals such as jellyfish...

 does not eliminate the redundant degrees of freedom, but instead it uses all of them to ensure flexible and stable performance of motor tasks. The central nervous system
Central nervous system
The central nervous system is the part of the nervous system that integrates the information that it receives from, and coordinates the activity of, all parts of the bodies of bilaterian animals—that is, all multicellular animals except sponges and radially symmetric animals such as jellyfish...

 makes use of this abundance from the redundant systems instead of restricting them like previously hypothesized. Uncontrolled Manifold (UCM) Hypothesis provides a way to quantify the muscle synergy. This hypothesis defines "synergy" a little differently than stated above; a synergy represents an organization of elemental variables (degrees of freedom) that stabilizes an important performance variable. Elemental variable are the smallest sensible variable that can be used to describe a system of interest at a selected level of analysis, and a performance variable refers to the potentially important variables produced by the system as a whole. For example, in multi-joint reaching task, the angles and the positions of certain joints are the elemental variables, and the performance variables are the endpoint coordinates of the hand.

This hypothesis proposes that the controller (the brain) acts in the space of elemental variables (i.e. the rotations shared by the shoulder, elbow, and wrist in arm movements) and selects in the space of manifolds (i.e. sets of angular values corresponding to a final position). This hypothesis acknowledges that variability is always present in human movements, and it categorizes it into two types: (1) bad variability and (2) good variability. Bad variability affects the important performance variable and causes large errors in the final result of a motor task, and a good variability keeps the performance task unchanged and maintains successful outcome. It suggests that the brain only works to decrease the bad variability that hinders the desired final result, and it does so by increasing the good variability in the redundant domain.


Inter-limb coordination concerns how movements are coordinated across limbs. J. A. Scott Kelso
J. A. Scott Kelso
J. A. Scott Kelso is a neuroscientist, and Professor of Complex Systems and Brain Sciences, Professor of Psychology, Biological Sciences and Biomedical Science at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida and The University of Ulster in Derry, N...

 and colleagues have proposed that coordination can be modeled as coupled oscillators, a process that can be understood in the HKB (Haken, Kelso, and Bunz) model.

The coordination of complex inter-limb tasks is highly reliant on the temporal
Time is a part of the measuring system used to sequence events, to compare the durations of events and the intervals between them, and to quantify rates of change such as the motions of objects....

 coordination. An example of such temporal coordination can be observed in the free pointing movement of the eyes, hands, and arms to direct at the same motor target. These coordination signals are sent simultaneously to their effectors. In bimanual tasks (tasks involving two hands), it was found that the functional segments of the two hands are tightly synchronized. One of the postulated theories for this functionality is the existence of a higher, "coordinating schema" that calculates the time it needs to perform each individual task and coordinates it using a feedback mechanism. There are several areas of the brain that are found to contribute to temporal coordination of the limbs needed for bimanual tasks, and these areas include the premotor cortex
Premotor cortex
The premotor cortex is an area of motor cortex lying within the frontal lobe of the brain. It extends 3 mm anterior to the primary motor cortex, near the Sylvian fissure, before narrowing to approximately 1 mm near the medial longitudinal fissure, which serves as the posterior border for...

(PMC), the parietal cortex, the mesial motor cortices, more specifically the supplementary motor area
Supplementary motor area
The supplementary motor area is a part of the sensorimotor cerebral cortex . It was included, on purely cytoarchitectonic arguments, in area 6 of Brodmann and the Vogts...

 (SMA), the cingulate motor cortex (CMC), the primary motor cortex
Primary motor cortex
The primary motor cortex is a brain region that in humans is located in the posterior portion of the frontal lobe. Itworks in association with pre-motor areas to plan and execute movements. M1 contains large neurons known as Betz cells, which send long axons down the spinal cord to synapse onto...

 (M1), and the cerebellum
The cerebellum is a region of the brain that plays an important role in motor control. It may also be involved in some cognitive functions such as attention and language, and in regulating fear and pleasure responses, but its movement-related functions are the most solidly established...



Intra-limb coordination involves the planning of trajectories in the Cartesian planes. This reduces computational load and the degrees of freedom for a given movement, and it constrains the limbs to act as one unit instead of sets of muscles and joints. This concept is similar to "muscle synergies" and "coordinative structures." An example of such concept is the Hogan and Flash minimum-jerk model, which predicts that the parameter that the nervous system controls is the spatial path of the hand (which implies that the movement is planned in the Cartesian coordinates). In contrast to this model, the joint-space model postulates that the motor system plans movements in joint coordinates. For this model, the controlled parameter is the position of each joint contributing to the movement. Control strategies for goal directed movement differ according to the task that the subject is assigned. This was proven by testing two different conditions: (1) subjects moved cursor in the hand to the target and (2) subjects move their free hand to the target. Each condition showed different trajectories: (1) straight path and (2) curved path.


Eye–hand coordination
Eye–hand coordination
Eye–hand coordination is the coordinated control of eye movement with hand movement, and the processing of visual input to guide reaching and grasping along with the use of proprioception of the hands to guide the eyes. In simple terms, eye-hand coordination involves the coordinated vision and...

concerns how eye movements are coordinated with and affect hand movements. Typical findings relate to the eye looking at an object before the hand starts moving towards that object.


Bernstein proposed that individuals learn coordination first by restricting the degrees of freedom that they use. By controlling only a limited set of degrees of freedom, this enables the learner to simplify the dynamics of the body parts involved and the range of movement options. Once the individual has gained some proficiency, these restrictions can be relaxed so allowing them to use the full potential of their body.
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