Little is known about the ability to precisely regulate forces or torques during unexpected disturbances, as required during numerous tasks. Effective force regulation implies small changes in force responding to externally imposed displacements, a behavior characterized by low limb impedance. This task can be challenging, since the intrinsic impedance of muscles increases when generating volitional forces. The purpose of this study was to examine the ability to voluntarily reduce limb impedance during force regulation, and the neural mechanisms associated with that ability. Small displacement perturbations were used to quantify elbow impedance during the exertion of volitional elbow torques from 0% to 20% of maximum voluntary contraction. Subjects were instructed either to not intervene with the imposed perturbations or to explicitly intervene so as to minimize the influence of the perturbations on the elbow torque. Our results demonstrated that individuals can reduce the low frequency components of elbow impedance by 35%. Electromyographic analysis suggested that this behavior is mediated by volitional and possibly long-latency reflex pathways with delays of at least 120 ms. These results provide a context for understanding how feedback altered by aging or injuries may influence the ability to regulate forces precisely.
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