Are hamstrings activated to counteract shear forces during isometric knee extension efforts in healthy subjects?

J Electromyogr Kinesiol. 2004 Jun;14(3):307-15. doi: 10.1016/j.jelekin.2004.01.003.


The hamstring muscles have the potential to counteract anterior shear forces at the knee joint by co-contracting during knee extension efforts. Such a muscle recruitment pattern might protect the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) by reducing its strain. In this study we investigated to what extent co-activation of the knee flexors during extension efforts is compatible with the hypothesis that this co-activation serves to counteract anterior tibial shear forces during isometric knee extension efforts in healthy subjects. To this aim, it is investigated whether co-activation varies with the required knee extension moment, with the knee joint angle, and with the position of the external flexing force relative to the knee joint. With unaltered moment and muscle activation, distal positioning of the flexing force on the tibia causes higher resultant (muscular plus external) forward shear forces at the knee as compared to proximal positioning. In ten subjects, knee flexor and extensor EMG was measured during a quasi-isometric positioning task for a range (5-50 degrees) of knee flexion angles. It was found that the co-activation of the knee flexors increased with the extension moment, but this increase was less than proportional (p<0.001). The extension moment increased 2.7 to 3.4 times, whereas the activation of Biceps Femoris and Semitendinosus increased only a factor 1.3 to 2.0 (joint angle dependent). Furthermore, a strong increase in co-activation was seen near full extension of the knee joint. The position of the external extension load on the tibia did not affect the level of co-contraction. It is argued that these results do not suggest a recruitment pattern that is directed at reduction of anterior shear forces in the knee joint during sub-maximal isometric knee extension efforts in healthy subjects.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology
  • Adult
  • Electromyography / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Isometric Contraction / physiology*
  • Knee Joint / physiology*
  • Male
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Postural Balance / physiology*
  • Shear Strength
  • Stress, Mechanical