Elbow impedance during goal-directed movements

Florin Popescu*, Joseph M. Hidler, W. Zev Rymer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


The mechanical properties and reflex actions of muscles crossing the elbow joint were examined during a 60-deg voluntary elbow extension movement. Brief unexpected torque pulses of identical magnitude and time-course (20-Nm extension switching to 20-Nm flexion within 30 ms) were introduced at various points of a movement in randomly selected trials. Single pulses were injected in different trials, some before movement onset and some either during early, mid, late or ending stages of the movement. Changes in movement trajectory induced by a torque pulse were determined over the first 50 ms by a nearest-neighbor prediction algorithm, and then a modified K-B-I (stiffness-damping-inertia) model was fit to the responses. The stiffness and damping coefficients estimated during voluntary movements were compared to values recorded during trials in which subjects were instructed to strongly co-contract while maintaining a static posture. This latter protocol was designed to help determine the maximum impedance a subject could generate. We determined that co-contraction increased joint stiffness greatly, well beyond that recorded under control conditions. In contrast, the stiffness magnitudes were quite small during routine voluntary movements, or when the subjects relaxed their limb. Furthermore, the damping coefficients were always significant and increased measurably at the end of movement. Reflex activity, as measured by EMG responses in biceps and triceps brachii, showed highly variable responses at latencies of 160 ms or greater. These reflexes tended to activate both elbow flexors and extensors simultaneously. These findings suggest that very low intrinsic muscle stiffness values recorded during point-to-point motion render an equilibrium point or impedance control approach implausible as a means to regulate movement trajectories. In particular, muscle that is shortening against inertial loads seems to exhibit much smaller stiffness than similarly active isometric muscle, although some degree of damping is always present and does not simply co-vary with stiffness. Although the limb muscles can be co-contracted statically or during movement with an observable increase in stiffness and even task performance, this control strategy is rarely utilized, presumably due to the greater energetic cost.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17-28
Number of pages12
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 2003


  • Ballistic
  • Elbow
  • Impedance
  • Stiffness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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