Postural regulation is an important part of a variety of motor tasks, including quiet standing and locomotion. Muscle length feedback, both the autogenic length feedback arising from a muscle's own spindles, and heterogenic length feedback, arising from its agonists and antagonists, is a strong modulator of muscle force and well suited to postural maintenance. The effects of this reflex feedback on 3-D force generation and limb mechanics are not known. In this paper, we present a mechanical model for relating 3-D changes in cat hindlimb posture to changes in muscle lengths. These changes in muscle length are used to estimate changes in both intrinsic muscle force generation and muscle activation by length feedback pathways. Few muscles are found to have directly agonist mechanical actions, and most differ by more than 20°. Endpoint force fields are largely uniform across the space investigated. Both autogenic and heterogenic feedback contribute to whole limb resistance to perturbation, autogenic pathways being most dramatic. Length feedback strongly reinforced a restoring force in response to end-point displacement.
T.J. Burkholder is with the Department of Health & Performance Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA 30332. T.R. Nichols is with the Department of Physiology at Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322.