Implications of Low Mechanical Impedance in Upper Limb Reaching Motion

in Motor Control
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The equilibrium point hypothesis (EPH), much discussed in recent years, is central in a class of theories that posits an important role for muscular mechanical and reflex properties in the control of voluntary movement. We review briefly the findings of our studies testing the idea of equifinality, a major tenet of the EPH, which predicts that terminal limb position will be achieved regardless of transient perturbations in initial position or during ongoing movement. Our observations do not support this prediction of equifinality. We also report our findings that joint viscosity and elastic stiffness estimated during ballistic motion are unexpectedly low, limiting their potential contributions to the regulation either of limb movement trajectory or of limb stability. Taken together, our results imply that neuromuscular mechanical properties are unlikely to be used for regulating voluntary motion and that other control strategies, most notably the use of feedforward controllers in which muscles act as force generators acting primarily on inertial loads, are more consistent with our observations.

The authors are with the Sensory Motor performance Program at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, 345 E. Superior St., Suite 1406, Chicago, IL 60611, and the Departments of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Physiology, and Biomedical Engineering at Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208.

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