Muscular torque generation during imposed joint rotation: Torque-angle relationships when subjects' only goal is to make a constant effort

P. R. Burgess*, L. F. Jones, C. F. Buhler, J. P.A. Dewald, L. Q. Zhang, W. Z. Rymer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


It is a reasonable expectation that voluntarily activated spinal motoneurons will be further excited by increases in spindle afferent activity produced by muscle stretch. Human motor behavior attributed to tonic stretch reflexes and to reflexes recruited by relatively slow joint rotation has been reported from several laboratories. We reinvestigated this issue by rotating the elbow joint over the central portion of its range while subjects focused on keeping their elbow flexion effort constant at one of three different levels and made no attempt to control the position, speed or direction of movement of their forearm. There is evidence that subjects' voluntary motor status is constant under these conditions so that any change in torque would be of involuntary origin. On average, torques rose somewhat and then fell as the elbow was flexed through a range of 80° at 10, 20 and 60°/s and a similar pattern occurred during elbow extension; i.e., both concentric and eccentric torque - angle profiles had roughly similar shapes and neither produced consistent stabilizing cross-range stiffness. The negative stiffness (rising torque) during the early part of a concentric movement and the negative stiffness (falling torque) during the later part of an eccentric movement would not have occurred if a stabilizing stretch reflex had been present. Positive stiffness rarely gave rise to torque changes greater than 20% in either individual or cross-subject averaged data. When angular regions of negative stiffness are combined with regions of low positive stiffness (torque change 10% or less), much of the range of motion was not well stabilized, especially during eccentric movements. The sum of the EMG-s from biceps brachii, brachioradialis and brachialis showed a pattern opposite to that expected for a stretch reflex; there was an upward trend in the EMG as the elbow was flexed and a downward trend as the elbow was extended. There was little change in the shape of this EMG - angle relationship with either direction or velocity. The individual EMG-angle relationships were distinctive for each of these three elbow flexor muscles in four of the six subjects; in the remaining two, biceps was distinctive, but brachioradialis and brachialis appeared to be coupled. Although the EMGs of individual muscles were modulated over the angular range, no consistent stretch reflexes could be seen in the individual records. Thus, we could find no clear evidence for stretch reflex stabilization of human subjects maintaining a constant effort. Rather, muscle torque appears to be reflexly modulated across a much used portion of the elbow's angular range so that any appreciable stabilizing stiffness that is sustained for more than fractions of a second is associated with a change in effort.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)327-340
Number of pages14
JournalSomatosensory and Motor Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2002


  • EMG
  • Effort
  • Isovolitional
  • Joint torque
  • Stretch reflex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Sensory Systems


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