It is well-known that muscle redundancy grants the CNS numerous options to perform a task. Does muscle redundancy, however, allow sufficient robustness to compensate for loss or dysfunction of even a single muscle? Are all muscles equally redundant? We combined experimental and computational approaches to establish the limits of motor robustness for static force production. In computer-controlled cadaveric index fingers, we find that only a small subset (<5%) of feasible forces is robust to loss of any one muscle. Importantly, the loss of certain muscles compromises force production significantly more than others. Further computational modeling of a multi-joint, multi-muscle leg demonstrates that this severe lack of robustness generalizes to whole limbs. These results provide a biomechanical basis to begin to explain why redundant motor systems can be vulnerable to even mild neuromuscular pathology.
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