Selective muscle activation following rapid varus/valgus perturbations at the knee

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1996 Jul;28(7):870-6. doi: 10.1097/00005768-199607000-00014.


Knee muscles are generally divided into groups based on their function as flexors or extensors. In this study we sought to determine if muscles were selectively activated according to their potential roles as varus or valgus stabilizers following rapid loads to the knee. While subjects were supine, varus or valgus moments were applied to the knees of 10 human subjects using a servomotor-driven perturbation device. During the experiments, electromyograms (EMG) were recorded from seven muscles, four of which had medial moment arms relative to the knee center, and three of which had lateral moment arms. It was observed that, for all medial muscles, a statistically significant increase in muscle activation followed valgus loads as compared with varus loads. All lateral muscles except the vastus lateralis showed the opposite response (as expected). These results suggest that muscles can be reflexively activated independent of their roles as flexors or extensors to provide stability to the human knee during varus or valgus loads. The timing of the reflex is consistent with that arising from joint mechanoreceptors, although polysynaptic stretch reflex may also be involved.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Electromyography
  • Humans
  • Knee / physiology*
  • Ligaments, Articular / physiology
  • Male
  • Mechanoreceptors / physiology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Reaction Time