Moment-generating capacity of upper limb muscles in healthy adults

Katherine R S Holzbaur*, Scott L. Delp, Garry E. Gold, Wendy M. Murray

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


Muscle strength and volume vary greatly among individuals. Maximum isometric joint moment, a standard measurement of strength, has typically been assessed in young, healthy subjects, whereas muscle volumes have generally been measured in cadavers. This has made it difficult to characterize the relationship between isometric strength and muscle size in humans. We measured maximum isometric moments about the shoulder, elbow, and wrist in 10 young, healthy subjects, ranging in size from a 20th percentile female to a 97th percentile male. The volumes of 32 upper limb muscles were determined from magnetic resonance images of these same subjects, and grouped according to their primary function. The maximum moments produced using the shoulder adductors (67.9±28.4 Nm) were largest, and were approximately 6.5(±1.2) times greater than those produced using the wrist extensors (10.2±4.6 Nm), which were smallest. While there were substantial differences in moment-generating capacity among these 10 subjects, moment significantly covaried with muscle volume of the appropriate functional group, explaining between 95% (p<0.0001; shoulder adductors) and 68% (p=0.004; wrist flexors) of the variation in the maximum isometric joint moments among subjects. While other factors, such as muscle moment arms or neural activation and coordination, can contribute to variation in strength among subjects, they either were relatively constant across these subjects compared to large differences in muscle volumes or they covaried with muscle volume. We conclude that differences in strength among healthy young adults are primarily a consequence of variation in muscle volume, as opposed to other factors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2442-2449
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Biomechanics
Issue number11
StatePublished - 2007


  • Biomechanics
  • Imaging
  • Scaling
  • Strength
  • Upper limb

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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

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