Handgrip force steadiness in young and older adults: a reproducibility study

Force steadiness is a quantitative measure of the ability to control muscle tonus. It is an independent predictor of functional performance and has shown to correlate well with different degrees of motor impairment following stroke. Despite being clinically relevant, few studies have assessed the validity of measuring force steadiness. The aim of this study was to explore the reproducibility of handgrip force steadiness, and to assess age difference in steadiness.

Intrarater reproducibility (the degree to which a rating gives consistent result on separate occasions) was investigated in a test-retest design with seven days between sessions. Ten young and thirty older adults were recruited and handgrip steadiness was tested at 5%, 10% and 25% of maximum voluntary contraction (MVC) using Nintendo Wii Balance Board (WBB). Coefficients of variation were calculated from the mean force produced (CVM) and the target force (CVT). Area between the force curve and the target force line (Area) was also calculated. For the older adults we explored reliability using intraclass correlation coefficient (ICC) and agreement using standard error of measurement (SEM), limits of agreement (LOA) and smallest real difference (SRD).

A systematic improvement in handgrip steadiness was found between sessions for all measures (CVM, CVT, Area). CVM and CVT at 5% of MVC showed good to high reliability, while Area had poor reliability for all percentages of MVC. Averaged ICC for CVM, CVT and Area was 0.815, 0.806 and 0.464, respectively. Averaged ICC on 5%, 10%, and 25% of MVC was 0.751, 0.667 and 0.668, respectively. Measures of agreement showed similar trends with better results for CVM and CVT than for Area. Young adults had better handgrip steadiness than older adults across all measures.

The CVM and CVT measures demonstrated good reproducibility at lower percentages of MVC using the WBB, and could become relevant measures in the clinical setting. The Area measure had poor reproducibility. Young adults have better handgrip steadiness than old adults.