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Adductor Pollicis Muscle Fatigue During Acute And Chronic Altitude Exposure And Return To Sea Level

C. S. Fulco, A. Cymerman, S. R. Muza, P. B. Rock, K. B. Pandolf, S. F. Lewis

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Large muscle exercise performance is impaired during acute exposure to normobaric or hypobaric hypoxia, but the effects of hypoxic conditions on fatigue of isolated smaller muscle groups per se are poorly defined. We studied how acute and chronic altitude (ALT) exposure and post-ALT return to sea level (SL) affects voluntary strength and fatigue of the adductor pollicis muscle. Eight healthy men (mean age 28 yr) were studied on five separate occasions: at SL, on days 1 (acute) and 13 (chronic) at ALT (4,300 m), and on days 1 (post 1) and 3 or 4 (post 2) at SL after 20 days of residence at ALT. On each day, maximal voluntary contractions (MVCs) of the adductor pollicis were obtained before and at the end of each minute of submaximal intermittent contractions of the adductor pollicis (50% of MVC of rested muscle, 5 s of contraction/5 s of rest) until exhaustion, defined as the inability to exert or maintain 50% of rested MVC. MVC of rested muscle did not differ among days. Time to exhaustion was shorter at acute ALT [5.1 +/- 0.5 (SE) min] than at SL (7.4 +/- 0.8 min, P < 0.05) and tended to be shorter than at chronic ALT (6.6 +/- 0.7 min, P > 0.05). Compared with acute and chronic ALT, time to exhaustion was prolonged during post 1 (9.0 +/- 1.2 min, P < 0.05) but not post 2 (6.1 +/- 0.5 min, P > 0.05). We conclude that 1) MVC of rested adductor pollicis muscle is not impaired during or after ALT exposure, 2) compared with SL conditions, acute but not chronic ALT exposure leads to a more rapid decline in adductor pollicis MVC associated with submaximal contractions, and 3) time to exhaustion is prolonged for > or = 1 day after return from ALT.