Stiffness properties of the musculoskeletal system can be controlled by regulating muscle activation and neural feedback gain. To understand the regulation of multijoint stiffness, we examined the relationship between human arm joint stiffness and muscle activation during static force control in the horizontal plane by means of surface electromyographic (EMG) studies. Subjects were asked to produce a specified force in a specified direction without cocontraction or they were asked to keep different cocontractions while producing or not producing an external force. The stiffness components of shoulder, elbow, and their cross-term and the EMG of six related muscles were measured during the tasks. Assuming that the EMG reflects the corresponding muscle stiffness, the joint stiffness was predicted from the EMG by using a two-link six-muscle arm model and a constrained least-square- error regression method. Using the parameters estimated in this regression, single-joint stiffness (diagonal terms of the joint-stiffness matrix) was decomposed successfully into biarticular and monoarticular muscle components. Although biarticular muscles act on both shoulder and elbow, they were found to covary strongly with elbow monoarticular muscles. The preferred force directions of biarticular muscles were biased to the directions of elbow monoarticular muscles. Namely, the elbow joint is regulated by the simultaneous activation of monoarticular and biarticular muscles, whereas the shoulder joint is regulated dominantly by monoarticular muscles. These results suggest that biarticular muscles are innervated mainly to control the elbow joint during static force-regulation tasks. In addition, muscle regulation mechanisms for static force control tasks were found to be quite different from those during movements previously reported. The elbow single- joint stiffness was always higher than cross-joint stiffness (off-diagonal terms of the matrix) in static tasks while elbow single-joint stiffness is reported to be sometimes as small as cross-joint stiffness during movement. That is, during movements, the elbow monoarticular muscles were occasionally not activated when biarticular muscles were activated. In static tasks, however, monoarticular muscle components in single-joint stiffness were increased considerably whenever biarticular muscle components in single- and cross-joint stiffness increased. These observations suggest that biarticular muscles are not simply coupled with the innervation of elbow monoarticular muscles but also are regulated independently according to the required task. During static force-regulation tasks, covariation between biarticular and elbow monoarticular muscles may be required to increase stability and/or controllability or to distribute effort among the appropriate muscles.
ASJC Scopus subject areas