In vivo human knee joint dynamic properties as functions of muscle contraction and joint position

Li Qun Zhang*, Gordon Nuber, Jesse Butler, Mark Bowen, William Z. Rymer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

91 Scopus citations


Information on the dynamic properties (joint stiffness, viscosity and limb inertia) of the human knee joint is scarce in the literature, especially for actively contracting knee musculature. A joint driving device was developed to apply small-amplitude random perturbations to the human knee at several flexion angles with the subject maintaining various levels of muscle contraction. It was found that joint stiffness and viscosity increased with muscle contraction substantially, while limb inertia was constant. Stiffness produced by the quadriceps was highest at 30°flexion and decreased with increasing or decreasing flexion angle, while knee flexors produced highest stiffness at 90°flexion. When knee flexion was < 60°, stiffness produced by the quadriceps was higher than that of the hamstrings and gastrocnemius at the same level of background muscle torque, while knee flexor muscles produced higher stiffnesses than the quadriceps at 90°flexion. Similar but less obvious trends were observed for joint viscosity. Passive joint stiffness at full knee extension was significantly higher than in more flexed positions. Surprisingly, as the knee joint musculature changed from relaxed to contracting at 50% MVC, system damping ratio remained at about 0.2. This outcome potentially simplifies neuromuscular control of the knee joint. In contrast, the natural undamped frequency increased more than twofold, potentially making the knee joint respond more quickly to the central nervous system commands. The approach described here provides us with a potentially valuable tool to quantify in vivo dynamic properties of normal and pathological human knee joints.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)71-76
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Biomechanics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 14 1997


  • Damping
  • Dynamics
  • Knee
  • Stiffness
  • Viscosity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Rehabilitation


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