BACKGROUND: Despite the potential of occupational passive shoulder exoskeletons (PSEs) to relieve overhead work, limited insights in overhead work precision performance impedes large-scale adoption in industry.
OBJECTIVE: To investigate the effect of PSE support on the reduction in task performance caused by physical fatigue.
METHODS: This experiment consisted of a randomized, counterbalanced cross-over design comparing Exo4Work PSE support and no support, in a physically fatigued state and a control condition. Precision performance was determined using execution speed and drilling errors. Muscle activity and shoulder joint kinematics were recorded.
RESULTS: Fatigue altered task performance, shoulder joint kinematics, muscle activity and subjective experience during overhead work. The PSE support mitigated the fatigue-induced changes in shoulder kinematics. Additionally, a part of the fatigue-induced co-activation of shoulder stabilizing muscles was avoided when working with the PSE. The PSE support also reduced the activity of the anterior and medial deltoid.
CONCLUSION: Physical fatigue provokes compensatory movements and increased co-contraction of muscles when executing overhead work. These fatigue-induced alterations are generally believed to increase the overall musculoskeletal load. The support provided by the PSE reduced muscle activity of muscles working to elevate the arm, but also partially mitigated those fatigue-induced effects.
SIGNIFICANCE: This study shows that the effect of PSE support on precision performance is limited, and suggested that, apart from the known effects of PSE support during overhead work, wearing the exoskeleton in a physically fatigued state may provide additional advantages.