Muscle activation strategies at the knee during running and cutting maneuvers

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2003 Jan;35(1):119-27. doi: 10.1097/00005768-200301000-00019.


Purpose: The purpose of this article was to investigate the activation patterns of muscles surrounding the knee during preplanned (PP) and unanticipated (UN) running and cutting tasks, with respect to the external moments applied to the joint. It was hypothesized that activation strategies during PP tasks would correspond to the magnitude and direction of the external loads applied to the knee joint, and the muscle activation patterns would differ between PP and UN tasks.

Methods: Eleven healthy male subjects performed a series of running and cutting tasks under PP and UN conditions. Activation from 10 knee muscles were determined using full-wave rectified, filtered, and normalized EMG calculated during a precontact phase and two epochs across the stance phase. Knee joint flexor and extensor muscle group ratios indicated the level of co-contraction. Individual muscles were also grouped into medial/lateral and internal/external rotation muscle groups, based upon their ability to counter externally applied varus/valgus and internal/external rotation joint loads, respectively.

Results: Selective activation of medial/lateral and internal/external rotation muscles and co-contraction of flexors and extensors were used to stabilize the joint under PP conditions, whereas generalized co-contraction strategies were employed during the UN condition. Net muscle activation during the UN sidestepping tasks increased by 10-20%, compared with an approximately 100% increase in applied varus/valgus and internal/external rotation joint moments.

Conclusion: In PP conditions, activation patterns appear to be selected to support the external loads experienced at the knee, e.g., medial muscles activated to resist applied valgus moments. Under UN conditions, there was no selective activation of muscles to counter the external knee load, with generalized co-contraction being the activation pattern adopted. These findings have implications for the etiology of noncontact knee ligament injuries.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Electromyography
  • Humans
  • Knee / physiology*
  • Knee Injuries / physiopathology
  • Knee Joint / physiology
  • Ligaments, Articular / injuries
  • Male
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Running / physiology*