Wrist action affects precision grip force

J Neurophysiol. 1997 Jul;78(1):271-80. doi: 10.1152/jn.1997.78.1.271.


When moving objects with a precision grip, fingertip forces normal to the object surface (grip force) change in parallel with forces tangential to the object (load force). We investigated whether voluntary wrist actions can affect grip force independent of load force, because the extrinsic finger muscles cross the wrist. Grip force increased with wrist angular speed during wrist motion in the horizontal plane, and was much larger than the increased tangential load at the fingertips or the reaction forces from linear acceleration of the test object. During wrist flexion the index finger muscles in the hand and forearm increased myoelectric activity; during wrist extension this myoelectric activity increased little, or decreased for some subjects. The grip force maxima coincided with wrist acceleration maxima, and grip force remained elevated when subjects held the wrist in extreme flexion or extension. Likewise, during isometric wrist actions the grip force increased even though the fingertip loads remained constant. A grip force "pulse" developed that increased with wrist force rate, followed by a static grip force while the wrist force was sustained. Subjects could not suppress the grip force pulse when provided visual feedback of their grip force. We conclude that the extrinsic hand muscles can be recruited to assist the intended wrist action, yielding higher grip-load ratios than those employed with the wrist at rest. This added drive to hand muscles overcame any loss in muscle force while the extrinsic finger flexors shortened during wrist flexion motion. During wrist extension motion grip force increases apparently occurred from eccentric contraction of the extrinsic finger flexors. The coactivation of hand closing muscles with other wrist muscles also may result in part from a general motor facilitation, because grip force increased during isometric knee extension. However, these increases were related weakly to the knee force. The observed muscle coactivation, from all sources, may contribute to grasp stability. For example, when transporting grasped objects, upper limb accelerations simultaneously produce inertial torques at the wrist that must be resisted, and inertial loads at the fingertips from the object that must be offset by increased grip force. The muscle coactivation described here would cause similarly timed pulses in the wrist force and grip force. However, grip-load coupling from this mechanism would not contribute much to grasp stability when small wrist forces are required, such as for slow movements or when the object's total resistive load is small.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Fingers / physiology*
  • Hand Strength*
  • Humans
  • Isometric Contraction / physiology
  • Male
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Weight-Bearing*
  • Wrist / physiology*