Responses to passive movement of receptors in joint, skin and muscle of the human hand

J Physiol. 1988 Aug:402:347-61. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.1988.sp017208.


1. Microneurographic techniques were employed to record unitary activity from afferents associated with digital joints of six conscious human subjects. Of 120 single afferents sampled from the median and ulnar nerves at the wrist, eighteen (15%) were classified as joint afferents; the majority of the sample (72.5%) were of cutaneous origin, and 12.5% were from muscle spindles and tendon organs. 2. Of the eighteen joint afferents six were tonically active in the rest position of the hand. All except two were recruited or accelerated their background discharge during passive joint movement. Three tonically active afferents were responsive to passive movement throughout the physiological range. The majority of the afferents, including the other three tonically active units, responded only towards the limits of joint rotation. 3. As a group, the sample of joint afferents had a limited capacity to signal the direction of joint movement. Nine of the sixteen joint afferents sensitive to movement responded in two axes of angular displacement, and two responded in all three axes. In any one axis of rotation eight afferents were activated in both directions of movement. However, one afferent, associated with the interphalangeal joint of the thumb, responded uni-directionally throughout the physiological range of joint movement and was thereby capable of adequately encoding joint position and movement. 4. Twenty-one of twenty-nine slowly adapting and eleven of eighteen rapidly adapting cutaneous afferents tested were activated by joint movement, but only towards the limits of joint rotation; half of the thirty-two movement-sensitive afferents were bi-directionally responsive. Muscle spindle afferents responded to stresses applied to the joint only if the resulting passive movement stretched the parent muscle. 5. It is concluded that human joint afferents possess a very limited capacity to provide kinaesthetic information, and that this is likely to be of significance only when muscle spindle afferents cannot contribute to kinaesthesia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Adult
  • Finger Joint / physiology*
  • Hand / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Kinesthesis / physiology
  • Movement
  • Muscle Spindles / physiology*
  • Neurons, Afferent / physiology*
  • Rotation
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / physiology*
  • Skin / innervation