Three-dimensional spatial tuning of neck muscle activation in humans

Anita N. Vasavada*, Barry W. Peterson, Scott L. Delp

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


The complex structure of the neck musculoskeletal system poses challenges to understanding central nervous system (CNS) control strategies. Examining muscle activation patterns in relation to musculoskeletal geometry and three-dimensional mechanics may reveal organizing principles. We analyzed the spatial tuning of neck muscle electromyographic (EMG) activity while subjects generated moments in three dimensions. EMG tuning curves were characterized by their orientation (mean direction) and focus (spread of activity). For the four muscles that were studied (sternocleidomastoid, splenius capitis, semispinalis capitis and trapezius), EMG tuning curves exhibited directional preference, with consistent orientation and focus among 12 subjects. However, the directional preference (orientation) of three of the four neck muscles did not correspond to the muscle's moment arm, indicating that maximizing a muscle's mechanical advantage is not the only factor in determining muscle activation. The focus of muscle tuning did not change with moment magnitude, demonstrating that co-contraction did not increase with load. Axial rotation was found to have a strong influence on neck muscle spatial tuning. The uniform results among subjects indicate that the CNS has consistent strategies for selecting neck muscle activations to generate moments in specific directions; however, these strategies depend on three-dimensional mechanics in a complex manner.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)437-448
Number of pages12
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2002


  • EMG
  • Humans
  • Neck muscles
  • Tuning curves

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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