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Exp Brain Res. 1990;82(2):315-26.

Human arm stiffness characteristics during the maintenance of posture.

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Department of Applied Mathematics and Computer Science, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel.


When the hand is displaced from an equilibrium position, the muscles generate elastic forces to restore the original posture. In a previous study, Mussa-Ivaldi et al. (1985) have measured and characterized the field of elastic forces associated with hand posture in the horizontal plane. Hand stiffness which describes the relation between force and displacement vectors in the vicinity of equilibrium position was measured and graphically represented by an ellipse, characterized by its size, shape and orientation. The results indicated that the shape and orientation of the stiffness ellipse are strongly dependent on arm configuration. At any given hand position, however, the values of these parameters were found to remain invariant among subjects and over time. In this study we investigate the underlying causes for the observed spatial pattern of variation of the hand stiffness ellipse. Mathematically analyzing the relation between hand and joint stiffness matrices, we found that in order to produce the observed spatial variations of the stiffness ellipse, the shoulder stiffness must covary in the workspace with the stiffness component provided by the two-joint muscles. This condition was found to be satisfied by the measured joint stiffness components. Using anatomical data and considering the effects that muscle cross-sections and changes in muscle moment arms have on the joint stiffness matrix, we found that these anatomical factors are not sufficient to account for the observed pattern of variation of joint stiffness in the workspace. To examine whether the coupling between shoulder and two-joint stiffnesses results from the coactivation of muscles contributing to these stiffnesses, EMG signals were recorded from shoulder, elbow and two-joint muscles. Our results indicated that, while some muscle coactivation may indeed exist, it can be found for only some of the muscles and in only part of the workspace.

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