Postural force fields of the human arm and their role in generating multijoint movements

Reza Shadmehr, Ferdinande A. Mussa-Ivaldi, Emilio Bizzi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

87 Scopus citations


When a perturbation displaces the human hand from equilibrium, arm muscles respond by producing restoring forces. When a set of displacements are given at various directions from the same equilibrium position, the resulting restoring forces form a "postural force field." It is not known whether these postural forces are related to those generated when a reaching movement is executed. However, if a movement is a consequence of a shift of the equilibrium position of the hand toward the target, then, from the postural force field, predictions can be made regarding the nature of the elastic forces acting on the hand during the movement. We have taken the first steps in testing this hypothesis by measuring the postural force field of a subject's arm over relatively large distances, and comparing these forces with the static forces generated at the hand while the subject attempted a reaching movement. Using a robot manipulandum, the hand was displaced at various directions from an equilibrium position. The measured restoring forces were fitted to a nonlinear model to define a postural force field for that equilibrium position. This field was used to predict elastic forces generated when the subject attempted to move the manipulandum from a point on the circumference of a circle to a target at its center -the center corresponded to the equilibrium position at which the postural field was measured. In some of the movement trials, the manipulandum was locked during approximately the first 120 msec of the program for motion and the resulting static "evoked" forces measured. We found that (1) the evoked forces did not point to the target, but were a function of the configuration of the arm and rotated with the shoulder joint, and (2) the magnitude of the evoked forces varied systematically, even though the movements were of the same magnitude. These patterns were remarkably similar to those observed in the postural forces. Our results provide experimental evidence linking maintenance of posture in a multijoint system to that of generating a movement. The evidence is consistent with the hypothesis that the CNS programs a reaching movement by shifting the equilibrium position of the hand toward the target.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)45-62
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1993
Externally publishedYes


  • Arm posture
  • Arm stiffness
  • Equilibrium point
  • Evoked forces
  • Field interpolation
  • Motor control
  • Multipoint movement
  • Postural force field

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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