Current Status of the Motor Program Meg E Morris, Jeffery J Summers, Thomas A Matyas and Robert Iansek PHYS

THER. 1994; 74:738-748.

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Movement. and location of these programs. Keele's (I9G8) origr'nal definition no longer seems tenable. Preparation of this article was supported by funding from the Australian Physiotherapy Association and Australian Physiotherapy Research Foundation Grant by guest on December 26.' Eventually. PhD. Current status of the motor program. SummersJJ. This article was submitted May 6. La Trobe University. Physical therapy. Rehabilitation. Kingston Centre. La Trobe University. Australia. Victoria. a postgraduate student at the School of Behavioural Health Sciences. Pbys Ther. structure. 1993. A critical appraisal of programming theoly and its use in physical therapy suggests that clinicians need to reconsider the usefulness of the motor program model as a basisfor movement rehabilitationfollowing brain damage and musculoskeletal disorders. and was accepted February 23. their movements are slow and inconsistent. Address all correspondence to Ms Morris at the Kingston Centre address. MAppSc. Origlns of the Motor Program The motor program was defined by Keele as "a set of muscle commands that are structured before a movement sequence begins. and that allows the sequence to be carried out T A Matyas. Department of Behavioural Health Sciences. motor programs are thought to contain commandsfor muscles that allow movements to occur without the need for continuousperipheral feedback. Whether training motor skills in elite athletes or in patients with orthopedic injuries o r brain damage. lansek R. motor equivalence. patients can complete the task quickly M E Morris. Movement disorders. Queensland. With repeated practice. [MomsME. 2013 . Toowoomba 4359. 009 to the first author.' Yet there is considerable debate as to the content. and Physiotherapist. University of Southern Queensland. given the problems of program storage. PhD.- Professional Perspective Current Status of the Motor Program Motor program theoly has provided physical therapists with one approach to understanding how the brain controls movement. therapists frequently refer to the motor program when seeking a theoretical framework for clinical practice. Bundoora 3083. The need to understand the internal mechanisms that govern movement control provided the stimulus for the development of motor program theory. 50 / 738 Physical Therapy/Volume 74. is Reader. there appears to be a shift toward internal control of movement. movement flexibility and context-conditioned variability. FRACP. Number 8/August 1994 Downloaded from http://ptjournal. Kingston Centre.apta. Australia. PhD. A review of the physical therapy literature reveals many instances in which motor program theoly has been used as a theoreticalframework for clinical practice. Matym TA. Australia. Victoria.1 Meg E Morrls Jeffery J Summers Thomas A Matyas Robert lansek Key Words: Motor skills. the motor program construct is currently under considerable threat. is Professor of Psychology. 1994. they rely heavily on vision and verbal feedback from the physical therapist to monitor performance. JJ Summers. is Director of Research. Cheltenham 3192. Programming theory argues that skills can be performed automatically due to the presence of motor programs that provide the codes for movement. I99g 74:738-752. R Iansek. Analogous with computer p r o grams that specz& the operations of computer hardware. Often when patients first attempt a new exercise sequence or motor skill. however. Yet despite the contribution programming theoly has made to the advancement of movement science. Thefinding that researchersfrom dtfferent disciplines define the motorprogram in a variety of ways adds dtpculty to the task of evaluating the eJicacy of the model. and skillfully in a manner that allows them to attend to changing environmental conditions o r secondary tasks. Warrigal Rd. Accordingly.

The agonist muscle contracts to initiate the movement. Instead.apta. pelvic girdle. longer reaction times are seen with more complex movements.'' for example. for long-loop reflexes.'O Therefore. This finding suggests that the pattern of muscle activation for rapid. and scapula contract before a person lifts an arm in standing. it is unlikely that peripheral feedback alone could control rapid movement sequences while they are in progress. "Closed-loop" theories of motor control such as that proposed by Adams4 emphasized that somatosensory and proprioceptive feedback was essential for skilled performance. These investigations show that. Lines of Euidmce for the Motor Program 1."2~10 Research on anticipatory postural adjustments also supports the view that some movements are programmed in advance o f movement.16 The function of anticipatory postural adjustments is to stabilize the body by minimizing displacement of the center of gravity. such as those by Taub. and typing. goal-directed arm movements is prepared in advance of movement and can be executed for short periods uninfluenced by peripheral feedback. reaction time studies measure how long it takes for the person to respond to sensory stimuli. It is well documented that postural muscles of the trunk. the triphasic muscle activation pattern continued to be exhibited for a period of at least 100 milliseconds after the movement was stopped. but also for patients with neurological impairments such as stroke15 and Parkinson's disease. it seems logical to conclude that rapid movement sequences are structured in advance.7 Even though the movement pattern can become irregular. Number 8/August 1994 Downloaded from http://ptjournal. Wadman et d. That these adjustments occur prior to overt movement provides some suggestion that central Physical Therapy/Volume 74. Movement is possible in deafferented subjects programs provide commands for muscle contraction that are independent of sensory feedback. even though somatosensory and proprioceptive feedback was readily available. Advocates of programming theory suggest that motor programs are key central mechanisms that provide the commands for movement. in by guest on December 26. despite the absence of sensation. o r "pr0grammed. Animal experiments. It is not surprising then that "programming" time has been seen to increase with the number of submove- 2. Typically. The time from stimulus presentation to movement onset varies according to the complexity of motor commands to be organized. Based on the idea that sequences of motor commands need to be organized in the brain prior to movement. and then the antagonist contracts to decelerate the arm. Electromyographic patterns remain consistent despite blockage of limb movement 5. it appears that central mechanisms may play a pivotal role in motor control. presumably because it takes greater time to assemble the appropriate motor program. For example. In addition to studies that show that movement is possible in deafferented individuals. followed by a second burst of agonist activity to guide the lever to the target.9 evidence for the existance of motor programs arises from research on the control of rapid movements such as speaking.8 This evidence is summarized in Table 1. a triphasic pattern of muscle activity is observed.I1-l4This is not only the case for asymptomatic subjects. yet can still walk. Lashlev described how a man with damage to the dorsal column spinal pathways was able to walk and move his arms. Patients with tabes dorsalis often lose peripheral feedback from the legs. even though the interval between successive movements in such actions is usually less than 100 milliseconds."3@383The idea of central programs for movement was put forward at a time when many believed that feedback was critical for the regulation of motor skills. Usually during movements of this type. observed the effects of mechanically blocking arm movement when subjects were asked to extend the elbow in order to quickly move a lever to a target. it usually takes more than 100 milliseconds for sensory feedback signals to reach the cortex.Table 1. Rapid movements cannot be modified by sensory feedback while in progress 3. 2013 . Closed-loop models became less popular following an accumulation of evidence that some movements could occur without sensory feedback. Support for the Motor Program Converging lines of research point to the role of motor programs in skilled performance. piano playing. Evidence for central control structures such as central pattern generators uninfluenced by peripheral feedback. these examples demonstrate that sequences of movement can occur in the absence of sensory feedback. whereas "open-loop" Qrogramming) theories argued that sequences could be prepared in advance of movement and executed without feedback.6 have also shown that movements such as reaching and grasping can be maintained following surgical transection of afferent spinal pathways. When Wadman and colleagues unexpectedly blocked the movement of the lever. Support for motor programming is also provided by investigations on the effects of perturbations to rapid movements of the limbs. Studies on anticipatory control in balance and reaching suggest that some movements are "preprogrammed" 4. Therefore. Additional evidence for the existence of motor programs is provided by investigations on reaction time. The same basic pattern of electromyographic (EMG) activity continued to be recorded for the biceps brachii and triceps brachii muscles. Reaction time is longer for more complex movements than for simple movements 6.

8 According to Schmidt. (Reprinted by permission from Motor 1 1 by RA Schmidt. to activate muscles subserving postural control or movement. Number 81August 1994 Downloaded from http://ptjournal.trol as presented by Schmidt? Essentially. the motor program can be seen to be the end result of movement planning. our nervous system must first select a m e tor program that specifies (1) the sequence of muscles needed to bring the hand to the desired point in space and (2) how much each muscle must contract. In contrast. Where Are Motor Programs Located? Although the motor program was originally intended as a metaphor to help people to conceptualize the processes involved in planning skilled movements. Model of motor program control. executive functions include strategic planning and goal monitoring. ~t the executive level. the effector system executes the movement commands.apta. the motor program is part of the effector apparatus. the subjects requires to assemble the series of motor programs required to 52 / 740 Physical Therapy/Volume 74.* In this light.19(p49*) Figure. Champaign. and increases in timing c~mplexity. 2013 . the movement duration. Copyright 1991 by Richard A Schmidt. This is illustrated in the following comment by Ghez in relation to motor control of reaching and grasping: Before we reach out for an object.~~*J~ Model of Motor Program Control The Figure shows an example of a program-based model of motor con- A similar viewpoint is found in Marsden's comments: To achieve an objective of movement.'* The comparison between incoming information and prior movement knowledge enables the system to determine the appropriate course of action8 In this way. Ill: Human Kinetics PubLearning and P e r f o m n c e Ip 8 lishers by guest on December 26. there are two levels in this systkm. a more literal interpretation of the concept has emerged in selected areas of the motor behavior literature.) ments in a movement sequence. Some researchers have taken a fairly literal interpretation of Keele's (1968) definition? which affords the motor program the status of a muscle commander. external sensory information and interoceptive signals are mapped onto a reference of correctness based on past experience for goodness of fit. After the executive system has evaluated the environment and interpreted internal information. the appropriate response is decided upon and a motor program is called up and run off.

provide some support for this proposition. however. it is beportant role in the formulation of lieved that CPGs specify the activation motor plans in response to environof motoneuron pools to regulate the . Research on the development of stepping movements in infants33 does.~6 play a role in the programming process. In these conditions.E motor programs involve purposeful. has a large procles are then paralyzed so that feedportion of neurons active in linking back from muscles does not influence together the submovements of a sethe activity of the spinal networks.31 In fictive locomotion. because the differences between a cortical versus subcortical location and genetic versus learned movement may cany implications for the structuring of rehabilitation programs for patients with movement by guest on December 26. Number 8/August 1994 quence before the commands are finally executed by the primary motor c0rtex. learned actions such as throwing. getting out of bed. ~ ~ @ ~ 3 ~ ) Attempts to identify anatomical correlates of motor programs have led some to suggest that the pre-Rolandic cortical motor areas. each of which involves the activation of appropriate agonists and synergists with adjustment of antagonists and postural f i ~ a t o r s . supplementary motor very close to Keele's definition of the area (SMA). The individual components of the motor plan may be termed motor programs. o r genetically determined. Problems of movement variability. the SMA could be thought of as a motor program "buffer" for the temporary holding and execution of motor programs that have been assembled by the premotor cortex and posterior parietal regions. The basal ganglia closely interact with the SMA in the programming process. novelty. Furthermore. targeted r n o v e m e n t ~ . ~ l These timing of rhythmical movements such provide a global representation of as the swing and stance phases of gait. Grobstein's3* opinion that CPGs constitute at least part of motor programs seems to be a reasonable one. ~ ~ transecti0n. during sequential movements suggest and breathing.sOLike in Keele's definithat the premotor area plays an imtion of the motor program.apta. movements. 2013 .30 This observation strongly suggests that there are rhythm generators in the spinal cord that drive the stepping apparatus. at the necessary time. walking.32 Physical Therapy/Volume 74. This role is illustrated by playing the piano. o r pattern).s0. and execution neural correlates of motor programs of final motor commands correspond is that low-level central pattern generto the activation of the associative ators (CPGs) for movement come motor cortex. however. and at the right pace. ~ ~ The spinal cord area is therefore functionally isolated from supraspinal and sensory influences.3~ The hind-limb musthe The SMA. or riding a bicycle. The discussion of motor programs and their neural representation presented in the physical therapy literature we reviewed has not addressed the possibility that CPGs might comprise a significant component of motor programs. Storage problem 4. Taub and Bergrnan suggested that "once a motor program has been Downloaded from http://ptjournal. Although it has been proposed that CPGs are widespread throughout the nonprimate animal kingdom. but rather by helping to initiate consecutive programs for automatic sequential r n o ~ e r n e n t s .- Table 2.~ 5 motor plans mental ~ u e s . Single-cell recorderators are thought to be oscillators in ings in behaving monkeys and studies the spinal cord that generate comon regional blood flow in different mands for rhythmical movements areas of the human cerebral cortex such as stepping. Central pattern gentex. The posterior paristudies on "fictive" locomotion in etal cortex is also considered a site cats. including environmental and biomechanical constraints on action move in the required direction. rhythmic bursts of activity corresponding to the phasing of muscle activation for locomotion are still observed in the ventral roots of the spinal cord when it is electrically stimulated o r when the animal is placed on a treadmill. Does not account for movement dynamics. not by storing the motor programs.31the question of whether CPGs exist in primates remains unanswered. One of the main challenges to programming theory concerns the role of peripheral feedback in movement regulation. and motor equivalence 6. Yet according to Schmidt.zl-25posterior and basal ga11glia~7-~9 parietal c0rtex. dancing. and primary motor cormotor program. it has been argued A different set of arguments that could that the stages of goal specification. Challenges to Keele's (I968) Original Definition of the Motor Prograd 1.~3-~5 As an analogy. This possibility is not trivial. chewing. the spinal for the assimilation of sensorimotor transected to isolate it cord is partially information necessary for the formufrom the brain and brain stem. whereas CPGs are more concerned with innate. Given these considerations. Challenges to Motor Program Control Criticisms of the motor program concept35 have been raised since its inception in the late 1960s and are summarized in Table 2. Evidence for distributed organization of movement control system 7. particularly for the dorsal roots are severed below visually guided. The problem of infinite regress 5. respectively. how sequences of simple movements without the need for peripheral feed(or motor programs) are linked toback o r cortical input (although these gether to form complex actions such inputs can modulate the stepping as dressing. and lation of motor plans. The term "commands" assumes a "commander" in the central nervous system 3. Sensory feedback refines movement detail 2. be put forward in relation to the motor programming.

Another issue of contention stems from Keele's use of the term "muscle command."*3@l*) For by guest on December 26. Muscle commanck. the triceps brachii muscle is not activated." The word "command" invokes the notion of a commander. Although feedback-based control of this type is very slow and places heavy demands on attention. As a consequence. If the patient flexes the elbow slowly from neutral to 90 degrees."42 This term refers to the finding that the manner in which muscles are activated changes according to the context in which movement occurs. Current models of motor programming emphasize that both peripheral and central mechanisms interact to govern skilled performance. it still ultimately helps to refine movement behavior.3' A closer examination of Keele's original definition. If the commander carries out instructions from a higher authority.among ~l others. in charge of receiving sensory information then issuing instructions for movement. Lough40 made the observation that some patients with cerebrovascular accidents are unable to overcome hypertonicity during tasks such as reaching and thus cannot consistently achieve their movement goals. Keele3 proposed that motor programs specify commands that allow muscles to be activated with optimum timing. feedback can play an important monitoring role. the triceps brachii muscle contracts eccentrically to control the movement. have suggested that higher CNS centers cannot be charged with specifying all of the possible details of movement. sensory feedback eventually provides information to the CNS about the mismatch between the movement goal and its outcome. the idea that the brain controls movement via motor programs that contain commands for muscle activity has been questioned from a number of standpoints.nite regress. I f the patient is asked to flex the elbow at the same speed but against resistance. have paralyzed chest muscles. Even though sensory feedback is relatively slow to reach the cortex. and coordination tend to be reduced when sensory feedback is precluded. for instance. if the commander were to decide independently on an appropriate course of action."42@243) Another problem with the term "muscle commands" relates to what is known as "context-conditioned variability. as highlighted by the deafferentation studies. some critics have questioned the validity of Keele's concept of the motor program. Consider the action of arm muscles when the elbow is flexed from neutral to 90 degrees when a patient is lying on his or her back with the shoulder positioned in 90 degrees of flexion. and force to produce the desired movement sequence. wear orthodontic braces. however. Number 8/August 1994 . This last problem could be seen to become one of in. One example is when the performance environment changes unexpectedly.according to Schmidt's impulse timing model. finesse. The question then arises: What type of CNS structure could possibly provide the dual executive functions of receiving information and allocating commands for particular movements? Also. Keele's original definitions does not accommodate this finding.written in the CNS [central nervous system]. which Hughes and Abbs described as "the capacity of a motor system to achieve the same end-product with considerable variation in the individual components that contribute to them. Mulder and Hulst i ~ n . As stated by Turvey et al. o r have lost their teeth. however. delivered to the musculature at the proper time and graded in duration and intensity so that the resulting muscular forces are sufficient to control the limbs. however. they rely on visual feedback to monitor and guide performance. having been initiated. Because feedback does have an effect on the fine details of movement. you d o not want in your explanation a person inside the head playing tennis. The same kinematic movement pattern is produced by different muscle groups. When movements are disturbed.44 Moreover. as Rosenbaum32 has already pointed out. are . play tennis.3"uite clearly there are some important conditions in which sensory feedback works in conjunction with open-loop mechanisms to help regulate performance.3'3 which showed that feedback can modify a range of movements.39@261) However.spy /Volume 74. a series of pulses of activation."36@173) Yet. the movement system can usually achieve functional goals such as speaking o r reaching to grasp a cup despite sudden perturbations. they d o not require movements to be unaffected by feedback. Peripheral feedback is also useful when the effector apparatus fails to adequately implement motor commands. The biceps brachii muscle contracts to flex the elbow. nor does it embrace the related issue of motor equivalence. it would have to be an intelligent o r knowing agent.39 Therefore. The primary concern appears to be one of storage. reveals that even though motor programs may allow sequences to be performed without sensory feedback. people can continue to speak reasonably clearly when they have a pipe in their mouth. . One of the main questions raised in recent critiques of programming theory relates to what the motor program actually specifies. In his original definition. 2013 Physical Ther. the specified behavior. "When trying to explain how it is that a person can.. are eating. . according to the task demands. then one must question where they come from. including ballistic movements. can be performed without any reference to guidance from the periphery. as is the case with a sudden perturbation. One-to-one mapping between motor programs and muscles would require a vast storage capacity. phasing.apta. movement accuracy. its availability permits adjustment of movements scheduled for subsequent trials. This point was illustrated by the recent research of Abbs and Winstein. It is not clear how the CNS could possibly store all of the motor programs required to specify every muscle in the human body for the variety of observed movements. Downloaded from http://ptjournal.

size of words. stored in long-term memory that enabled consistent features to be reproduced regardless of the speed of movement. application of a size variable could lead to small. Number Downloaded from http://ptjournal.4'.org/ by guest on December 26. Recent studies indicate that much of the movement we produce is "for free. Even with simple movements.apta. The direct coupling between perception and action constrains the manner in which the coordinative structures are assembled. The GMP also helps to alleviate the problem of storage. It seemed feasible that these invariant features be coded in a GMP. need not have been performed previously. and the elastic properties of soft tissue. and amplitude of movement are emergent properties of the dynamics of the motor system as it interacts with the environment.Although a detailed description o r critique of the dynamical approach is beyond the scope of this article. momentum. The lack of an adequate explaf movement nation for the problems o novelty and motor equivalence could be seen as an inherent weakness of traditional programming theory. force. The Dynamlcal Systems Approach Advocates of the dynamical approach argue that motor program theory places too much emphasis on brain computations for movement and insufficient emphasis on the dynamics of motor control.) Close examination of movement patterns reveals invariant features for particular classes of action. The system contains many degrees of freedom. rather than being specified by a higher order structure such as a motor program."5s(p253)Coordinative structures are not "hard wired". In relation to the handwriting example.48-51 The second criticism is that the earliest versions of the theory failed to adequately take into account how the biomechanics of movement and the context in which the movement is performed constrain motor behavior. and speed independent. rather. they self-assemble according to task demands. reinforced this newer conceptualization of the model. 2013 . Schmidt's concept of the "generalized motor program" (GMP). the foot. and it is still not clear which aspects of movement remain stable across conditions.A further consideration is the issue of movement novelty. in programming theory. By setting different variables for an abstract program. in- The Generalized Motor Program In an attempt to address the limitations of traditional programming theory. those advocating a dynamical viewpoint suggest that the timing is a consequence of the natural frequency of oscillation of the limbs. the search for invariance in movement has yielded conflicting findings.39 The GMP o r abstract representation of movement comes some way toward tackling the movement novelty and variability problems discussed previously. and an immobilized hand.5~ Tuller and colleagues as "groups of muscles often spanning several joints which are constrained to act as a single functional unit for a given task. This point was demonstrated in a handwriting study by Raibert. Thus. o r limbs used. These variables (commonly termed "parameters" in the motor control literature) define exactly how the motor program is expressed on a particular occasion. Specific movements. In particular. and writing. Whereas programming theorists might argue for the existance of a "central clock or temporal codes within motor programs that control the tapping rhythm. therefore. consider the control of the timing of cyclical limb movements such as finger tapping. this approach will be briefly introduced as an alternative way of conceptualizing how movement is controlled. he noted that a particular style containing characteristic features was apparent for all conditions. which encompassed the abstract representations of a movement plan and was therefore effector. a direct challenge to the motor program is the dynarnical systems viewpoint. there are two possible criticisms of the earlier versions of GMP theory. regular.52 Along these lines. Yet. This finding suggested that a fundamental or abstract pattern was Physical Therapy /Volume 74. overall force. which provided the foundation for GMP theory. Generalized motor programs can be thought of as algorithms that define classes of action. characteristics such as the timing. First. Rather than storing memories for every possible movement sequence. quite a few articles have recently challenged the hypothesis of relative timing invariance. As an example. (Algorithms are sets of equations that specify the computations for eliciting a particular response. Only the general action pattern has to be learned. there are subtle changes in performance from trial to trial." as a result of factors such as gravity. Nevertheless. At the extreme. muscles. every movement could be seen as a novel movement even though fundamental characteristics of an action remain stable from one performance to the next. it is not clear how new movements can be performed when no motor program exists to spec@ how the muscles should contract. Their view is that movement is not prespeclfied by centrally located programs. size. The frequency of oscillation is dictated by defined by coordinative str~ctures. For a specific movement to be executed in a given environmental context. only key programs for classes of action require representation. a wide variety of movements can be produced.5.4' When Raibert analyzed writing performed with the dominant and nondominant hands. Keele45 modified his earlier definition of the motor program from a set of muscle commands for movement to an abstract representation for movement. such as reaching. Rather. which permits flexibility in the way we perform tasks. and muscle selection variables. walking. or large letters according to the value assigned. Other variables of GMPs that have been indicated in experimental research include overall duration. which would further assist with the storage problem. variables need to be assigned to the generalized program.

and from this point of view has made a valuable contribution to motor control research. 2013 Physical Therapy/Volume 74. The continuance of the triphasic muscle activation pattern for movements that have been blocked and the persistence of neural activation in fictive locomotion provide good examples of this limitation.64-69 Recent commentaries by Requin70 and Alexander et a171 suggest that one-toone mapping between stages of information processing and precisely located regions of the brain is becoming increasing incompatible with what is now known about the functional architecture of the brain. A system that contains a predominance of parallel pathways is unlikely to restrict its operations to serial. The traditional viewpoint was that motor programs operated within a hierarchical structure. we see it not as a theory of motor control but rather as a descriptive tool. I 1 I I . Such an approach would considerably underutilize available capacities and would be slower than parallel processing. Such by guest on December 26. . Some adherents to the dynamical approach have discussed cognitive constraints on action. Neglecting one approach at the expense of the other will not solve the complex problem of understanding how coordinated movement occ~rs. There remains the possibility that motor programs may not be stored in set regions of the brain such as the premotor cortex and supplementary area and executed according to a ~ I I 1 1I .I Levels of Control A remaining issue to be addressed by motor program theory is whether the nervous system controls movement via hierarchical o r distributed processes. The new attitude is reflected in the following statement by Marteniuk: There are undoubtedly biomechanical factors that constrain movement control processes and that can account for a substantial part of coordinated movement. if the brain uses sequential analytic processes. as suggested by traditional motor programming models. It was thought that movement goals were coded in the frontal and parietal association cortices. including the mechanical properties of muscles.7~has not been forthcoming. however.73 In addition. there are also brain mechanisms.5G5~ reviews by Meijer and Roth35 and Turvep4 provide more detailed accounts of these concepts. according to Alexander and c0lleagues. as depicted in the Figure. most information processing theorists now acknowledge that some aspects of movement control result from the biomechanics of the effector apparatus. however. that these two paradigms are not necessarily mutually exclusive. the control of movement variables such as movement direction has been found to result from the recruitment of large populations of neurons (which may have different individual functions) rather than oneto-one mapping between neurons coded for a given function and a particular muscle. and musculoskeletal mechanisms that regulate movement. The dynamical approach attempts to describe the neural. potentially complimentary to the biomechanical factors. and the cerebellum. the dynamical approach still fails to explain the persistence of motor output commands when there is no movement. gravitational. For example. in assuming that physical-mechanical factors and environmental constraints "drive" the nervous system. that motor programming occurred in the SMA. neurons coded for the same behaviod function are found throughout several different regions of the brain.62 Similarly. This viewpoint. and that the final commands for movement were executed by the motor cortex and corticospinal pathways. However.stead of being controlled by a higher order executive. movement is seen to result from a self-organizing motor control system that receives multiple The inputs across many le~els. analytic processing.74 Alexander and colleagues71 also point out that the architecture of the brain shows massive parallel connections between the motor areas of the cortex . It could be argued.apta. A recent analysis of the motor behavior literature by Abernethy and Sparrowbl revealed that there is currently a paradigm shift away from motor program theory toward a dynamical approach. More importantly. The dynamical viewpoint has drawn attention to the point that not all aspects of motor behavior need to be controlled by a central representation for movement.7s72 It is also now apparent that single neurons can be involved in implementing different functions. the basal ganglia. has yet to address some key issues in movement control. then there should be evidence of specialization for these transformations in some of the brain circuits. Number 8/August 1994 . according to the context in which they are activated. 1 . which help to establish the intentional elements of a particular movement. it is difficult to reconcile the idea that there are no central representations for movement with the range of diverse and highly skilled movements that humans can perform at will and from memory. As such.~3@ll5) This balanced approach appears to signal the direction for future research and is an important evolution in the most recent versions of motor program theory. The information processing viewpoint (which is the branch of psychology in which programming theory is embedded) places considerable emphasis on the notion of executive and central representations of movement in the brain that enable a person to act intentionally. 'I'here is growing evidence that c e n t d representations for action planning and control are widely distributed in n e u d networks that overlap throughout a large portion of the brain and that are flexibly interFor example. that take part in planning and control processes. Thinking of an integrated model that captures both cognitive and dynamical elements is possible. and that account also for a proportion of the coordination process. Moreover. That humans can intentionally move in a particular way suggests that there is some form of central representation for movement that can be accessed by an "intelligent" brain. ~ Downloaded from http://ptjournal. in addition to connections that are in series.

Although motor control theorists have rarely discussed programming theory in relation to motor impairments or movement rehabilitation. A growing number of researchhave indicated that this ers37. physical therapists are confronted with this type of dilemma whenever they apply motor control theory to clinical practice." If the prevailing view is taken. They defined the motor program as representing the orders of actions. Number 8/August 1994 Downloaded from http://ptjournal. This appears to be particularly the case in neurological rehabilitation. These issues need to be resolved if progmmining theory is to withstand challenges from alternative models of motor control. Some critics argue that it is now time to question the predictions that can be derived from a model that is couched in terms such as "functional state" o r "plan. that the assump- Physical Therapy and the Motor Program A review of the physical therapy literature over the last decade reveals that programming theory has had considerable impact on the formulation of key questions in movement rehabilitation. remain speculative and are clouded by the lack of consensus as to what is meant by the term "motor program.75 Rosenbaum's32 current definition is in agreement with this broader role. the program may simply coordinate the interaction between submovements for a particular task and delegate the role of specifyrng the fine details of movement to lower levels. Such an executive function considerably reduces the computational burden on the CNS. and therefore concluded that it was a plan. Clearly. to occ~r. He has described the motor program simply as "a functional state that allows particular movements. such as neural network theory o r the dynamical systems approach. however.n the continued use of the term is likely to lead to further confusion in the motor behavior literature. this nals. there is little objective evidence to suggest. due to by guest on December 26. The notion of motor programs that utilize distributed and parallel processing also links more closely with what is known about the neural architecture of the brain. The issue is not whether central representations for movement exist in the CNS. at this point. Schenkman recently advised that The breakdown in motor planning and programming that has been associated with Parkinson's disease dictates that physical therapy for the disease should specifically incorporate the repetitive practice of functional activities that require simultaneous sequencing of different motor programs. Even with the newer models of movement control such as the dynamical approach. the distinction between the executive and the motor progmm (Figure) becomes more blurred when the motor program is assigned the role of a regulator o r coordinator of lower level systems.apta. thereby helping to alleviate the storage problem. movement novelty.l?~9 Accordingly. physical therapists are faced with a dilemma as to the validity of applying motor program theory to movement rehabilitation procedures.7E90 literature reflects Keele's original definition of the motor program. the "motor program" was intended to be a metaphor or "black box" that helped to explain aspects of skilled movement such as planning and central representations for particular actions. and that physical therapy can "activate" such p r o grams in patients with movement disorders. o r classes of movements. From its inception. given recent knowledge on neural control of movement. over the years. Yet a more literal interpretation of the motor program as a set of muscle commands o r algorithms is difficult to reconcile with the problems of motor equivalence. The trend toward defining motor programs in more abstract terms could be seen to come at the expense of predictive capacity.60.7lv7677 literal interpretation can no longer be sustained. that the motor program is no more than a "black box" in which movements are planned within a multilevel system. Yet. and context-conditioned variability.sequential process. In line with recent evidence that indicates concurrent. which is seen as a "muscle command" center that enables performance of coordinated sequences of movement without continuous reliance on sensory feedback. A Problem of Semantics? Difficulties in defining the motor program and deriving the practical implications of programming theory have arisen. including the brain stem and spinal cord. rather whether the motor program construct provides a viable model of these representations. physical therapists have made use of the motor program concept to place therapeutic practice within a theoretical framework. Although a metaphoric use of the term "motor programming" might still help to loosely describe cognitive processes involved in movement planning without specifyrng the neural correlates." Added to this. the prevailing view is that the motor program is a multilevel system that enables abstract representations of actions to be elaborated into their more specific components at lower level~. but may be distributed over a number of levels. Both of these assumptions. some have attempted to make literal applications of the concept. In one sense. program storage.3 Physical Therapy/Volume 74.w@'74) Implicit within this statement is the idea that motor programs are stored in the nervous system. in part. The interest in motor program theory as a basis for physical intervention is reflected by the many references to the motor program (engram) concept in standard physical therapy texts as well as refereed jourIn most instances. then perhaps it makes little sense for clinicians to speculate about how these programs can be triggered in order to elicit skilled movements. in relation to the treatment of people with Parkinson's disease. particularly as researchers from different disciplines define the motor program in a variety of ways."3~@109) The most recent definition by Keele et a145 followed suit. distributed processing of sensorimotor transformations. rather than their specific elements. 2013 .55. For example.

L a Trobe University. clinicians who take a dynamical systems approach might ask how the task dynamics can be structured to enhance performance. 1917. for example. Motor Learning and Performance. Movements in nonhuman primates deprived of somatosensory feedback.31:44%458. and. by guest on December 26. Finally. Summers JJ. 5 Lashley KS. 1982. 1981.lOl and some of these methods have been incorporated into movement rehabilitation programs. London. Horak91 highlighted this point in a recent review of motor control models underlying posture rehabilitation in children. A sequence of postural movements precedes voluntary movement.4:335-374. the weight of evidence suggests that it is now difficult to sustain such interpretations. Inc. 9 Rothwell JC. We also thank the physical therapists at Kingston Centre for their useful comments on the manuscript. Traub MM.43:169-194. . One of the key roles of physical therapy is to assist patients with brain damage o r musculoskeletal disorders to acquire the capability for moving in a more skillful or functional way. 111: Human Kinetics Pub lishers Inc. and in particular Cameron Grant for his assistance in the preparation of the manuscript. motor control theories have offered little insight into the processes associated with skill acquisition. therapists will need to remain cautious when they apply any motor control theory to practice.3: 111-149. We believe that. The structure of motor programs. J Neuropbysiol 1982. 2013 i . 1976:109-114. 4 Adams JA. Brain. Number B/August 1994 Downloaded from http://ptjournal. Champaign. 1971. The ultimate test of the usefulness of motor control models as a basis for physical therapy practice will be clinical research. continued use of the term may actually impede progress in the field.9*4. This would seem to be particularly the case if an informed approach is coupled with the physical therapists' expertise in observing. .5individuals with and people brain impairment. Ererc Sports Sci Rev. and documenting the outcome of specific interventions for movement disorders. Res Q. A closed-loop theory of motor learning. 1979. Psycho1 Bull. Am J Physiol. 10 Henry FM. As such.apta.12:135-141. Movement control in skilled motor performance. In reference to motor control research. the field of motor skill learning has centered on practical issues such as the value of feedback. Human Skills. 7 Bannister R. . NK Academic Press. Summers recently suggested that Physical Therapy /Volume 74. Zattara M. . in considering the ways in which motor program theory might inform physical therapy practice. By regularly examining our underlying assumptions about motor control and by adapting our approach as more robust models evolve. Brain's Clinical Neurology. et al. by carefully structuring the training environment o r by teaching the patient strategies for optimizing the biomechanics of the movement. 1976. Rogers DE.77@m) Ultimately. 1968. Increased response latency for complicated movements and a "memory drum" theory of neuromotor reaction.105:51>542. ed.Day BL. Neurosci Lett. 1989:49-72. The accuracy of movement in the absence of excitation from the moving organ. Whereas clinicians who hold a motor programming viewpoint might ask questions about how physical therapy can be implemented to facilitate the smooth retrieval and execution of motor programs for a given movement sequence.22:263-270.1O2J03 From a practical viewpoint. ed. it is still important for physical therapists to examine the assumptions that they hold about how movements are controlled. References 1 Summers JJ. England: Oxford University Press. 1967. measuring. Currently. as did Gordona7 in relation to methods of rehabilitation for patients with stroke. Gurfinkel VS. the emphasis would be on identifying the neural constraints on action and exploring ways in which the CNS can be assisted to utilize alternative neural connections to help overcome movement disorders. Acknowledgments We thank the members of the Movement Rehabilitation Research Group. . From a neural network perspective. Motor Control: Issues and Trends.Properties of postural adjustments associated with rapid arm movements. 6 Taub E. it is useful to delimit the processes associated with motor control from those involved in motor skill learning. 8 Schmidt RA. In contrast. specific types of practice. Oxford. because these assumptions structure the way in which we formulate key questions related to the assessment and treatment of movement disorders. In: Stelmach GE. Nevertheless. there is a return to the use of the term "motor program" simply as a metaphor to describe cognitive processes in movement planning. 2 Keele SW. In: Holding D. Pal'tsev YI. A historical overview of the motor program highlighted the changing applications and definitions surrounding its use during the last 25 years. it could even be argued that the literature on motor skill learning currently provides more direct applications for physical therapy practice than motor control paradigms such as motor program theory. Motor programs. physical therapists will need to decide whether the motor program construct still provides a useful framework for clinical practice. BioJzika.92193 already been clinical trials that have investigated the efficacy of methods for promoting motor skill learning in skilled athletes.Journal of Motor Behavior. Manual motor performance in a deafferented man. 12 Bouisset S.47:287-302.tions are valid.9~100 with musculoskeletal disorders. until clinical trials have been conducted. 3 Keele SW. in view of the lack of consensus as to what exactly is a motor program and whether it is a metaphoric or literal term. England: John Wiley & Sons Ltd. 1991. to date. Elements of control of voluntary movements. 1 1 Belen'kii W. physical therapists might be better placed to devise and implement effective strategies for movement rehabilitation. and different practice schedules for There have movement training. . there may be limited potential for determining the anatomical correlates of motor programs.70:387403. New York. Nashner LM. Although the motor program still enjoys the status d o r d e d by a literal interpretation in some disciplines. 13 Cordo PJ.

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