Leveraging Joint Mechanics Simplifies the Neural Control of Movement

Daniel Ludvig*, Mariah W. Whitmore, Eric J. Perreault

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Behaviors we perform each day, such as manipulating an object or walking, require precise control of the interaction forces between our bodies and the environment. These forces are generated by muscle contractions, specified by the nervous system, and by joint mechanics, determined by the intrinsic properties of the musculoskeletal system. Depending on behavioral goals, joint mechanics might simplify or complicate control of movement by the nervous system. Whether humans can exploit joint mechanics to simplify neural control remains unclear. Here we evaluated if leveraging joint mechanics simplifies neural control by comparing performance in three tasks that required subjects to generate specified torques about the ankle during imposed sinusoidal movements; only one task required torques that could be generated by leveraging the intrinsic mechanics of the joint. The complexity of the neural control was assessed by subjects’ perceived difficulty and the resultant task performance. We developed a novel approach that used continuous estimates of ankle impedance, a quantitative description of the joint mechanics, and measures of muscle activity to determine the mechanical and neural contributions to the net ankle torque generated in each task. We found that the torque resulting from changes in neural control was reduced when ankle impedance was consistent with the task being performed. Subjects perceived this task to be easier than those that were not consistent with the impedance of the ankle and were able to perform it with the highest level of consistency across repeated trials. These results demonstrate that leveraging the mechanical properties of a joint can simplify task completion and improve performance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number802608
JournalFrontiers in Integrative Neuroscience
StatePublished - Mar 21 2022


  • joint mechanics
  • mechanical impedance
  • muscle activation
  • neural control
  • perceived difficulty
  • task performance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sensory Systems
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Leveraging Joint Mechanics Simplifies the Neural Control of Movement'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this