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Kinematic and muscle patterns underlying hand grasps have been widely investigated in the literature. However, the identification of a reduced set of motor modules, generalizing across subjects and grasps, may be valuable for increasing the knowledge of hand motor control, and provide methods to be exploited in prosthesis control and hand rehabilitation. Methods: Motor muscle synergies were extracted from a publicly available database including 28 subjects, executing 20 hand grasps selected for daily-life activities. The spatial synergies and temporal components were analyzed with a clustering algorithm to characterize the patterns underlying hand-grasps. Results: Motor synergies were successfully extracted on all 28 subjects. Clustering orders ranging from 2 to 50 were tested. A subset of ten clusters, each one represented by a spatial motor module, approximates the original dataset with a mean maximum error of 5% on reconstructed modules; however, each spatial synergy might be employed with different timing and recruited at different grasp stages. Two temporal activation patterns are often recognized, corresponding to the grasp/hold phase, and to the pre-shaping and release phase. Conclusions: This paper presents one of the biggest analysis of muscle synergies of hand grasps currently available. The results of 28 subjects performing 20 different grasps suggest that a limited number of time dependent motor modules (shared among subjects), correctly elicited by a control activation signal, may underlie the execution of a large variety of hand grasps. However, spatial synergies are not strongly related to specific motor functions but may be recruited at different stages, depending on subject and grasp. This result can lead to applications in rehabilitation and assistive robotics.

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