The objective of this study was to identify the impact of modifying the object width on muscle and joint forces while gripping objects. The experimental protocol consisted to maintain horizontally five objects of different widths (3.5, 4.5, 5.5, 6.5, and 7.5 cm) with a thumb–index finger grip. Subjects were required to grasp spontaneously the object without any instruction regarding the grip force (GF) to apply. A biomechanical model of thumb–index finger pinch was developed to estimate muscle and joint forces. This model included electromyography, fingertip force, and kinematics data as inputs. The finger joint postures and the GF varied across the object widths. The estimated muscle forces also varied significantly according to the object width. Interestingly, we observed that the muscle force/GF ratios of major flexor muscles remain particularly stable with respect to the width whereas other muscle ratios differed largely. This may argue for a control strategy in which the actions of flexors were preserved in spite of change in joint postures. The estimated joint forces tended to increase with object width and increased in the distal–proximal sense. Overall, these results are of importance for the ergonomic design of handheld objects and for clinical applications.
Laurent Vigouroux (Corresponding Author), Mathieu Domalain, and Eric Berton are with the Movement Sciences Institute, Etienne Jules Marey, UMR 6233, Mediterranean University, Marseille, France.