Uncertainty of knee joint muscle activity during knee joint torque exertion: The significance of controlling adjacent joint torque
In the single-joint torque exertion task, which has been widely used to control muscle activity, only the relevant joint torque is specified. However, the neglect of the neighboring joint could make the procedure unreliable, considering our previous result that even monoarticular muscle activity level is indefinite without specifying the adjacent joint torque. Here we examined the amount of hip joint torque generated with knee joint torque and its influence on the activity of the knee joint muscles. Twelve healthy subjects were requested to exert various levels of isometric knee joint torque. The knee and hip joint torques were obtained by using a custom-made device. Because no information about hip joint torque was provided to the subjects, the hip joint torque measured here was a secondary one associated with the task. The amount of hip joint torque varied among subjects, indicating that they adopted various strategies to achieve the task. In some subjects, there was a considerable internal variability in the hip joint torque. Such variability was not negligible, because the knee joint muscle activity level with respect to the knee joint torque, as quantified by surface electromyography (EMG), changed significantly when the subjects were requested to change the strategy. This change occurred in a very systematic manner: in the case of the knee extension, as the hip flexion torque was larger, the activity of mono- and biarticular knee extensors decreased and increased, respectively. These results indicate that the conventional single knee joint torque exertion has the drawback that the intersubject and/or intertrial variability is inevitable in the relative contribution among mono- and biarticular muscles because of the uncertainty of the hip joint torque. We discuss that the viewpoint that both joint torques need to be considered will bring insights into various controversial problems such as the shape of the EMG-force relationship, neural factors that help determine the effect of muscle strength training, and so on.