Reflex muscle contractions can be elicited by valgus positional perturbations of the human knee

Y. Y. Dhaher, A. D. Tsoumanis, W. Z. Rymer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Experimental evidence on the reflex responses of thigh muscles to valgus mechanical perturbations at the human knee are presented. Random step positional deflections, ranging from 5° to 12° at 60°/s, were applied to the fully extended knees of seven healthy subjects. Subjects were instructed to maintain a constant background co-activation (∼2-11% MVC) of the quadriceps and hamstring muscles prior to and during the mechanical stimulus. We found that the reflex response to sustained valgus joint deflection in the vasti muscles had longer onset latencies (range: 83-92ms) than did the stretch reflex in the same muscles (latencies: 29-31ms). This reflex EMG response consisted typically of a peak followed by sustained muscle activity throughout the step perturbation. The sustained EMG activity was dependent on the amplitude of the perturbing stimulus, but in a nonlinear manner. The long latency of the valgus response suggests that the reflex originates in nonmuscular sensory pathways, potentially from mechanoreceptors lying in periarticular tissues such as joint ligaments and capsule. Analysis of the spatial distribution of reflex responses showed an asymmetrical pattern with preferential activation of medial vs. lateral muscles of the knee. We assess whether these asymmetric reflex contractions could promote joint stability, either by inducing generalized joint stiffening, or by preferential activation of those muscles that are best suited to resist induced ligament strain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)199-209
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Biomechanics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Joint stability
  • Periarticular tissue afferents
  • Reflex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Rehabilitation


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