Joint sense, muscle sense, and their combination as position sense, measured at the distal interphalangeal joint of the middle finger

J Physiol. 1976 Sep;260(2):387-407. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.1976.sp011521.


1. An anatomical peculiarity allows the hand to be positioned so that the terminal phalanx of the middle finger cannot be moved by voluntary effort. When positioned in this way only joint and cutaneous mechanisms subserve position sense. By altering the position of the hand the muscles are again engaged and able to move the finger. Moving the joint then also excites muscular afferents. 2. The position sense of twelve subjects was assessed with and without engagement of the muscles at the joint. Three tests were used in which either angular displacement, angular velocity or duration of displacement were held constant. 3. When muscular attachment was restored, performance in all tests was greatly enhanced. As engagement of the muscles caused little change in the 'stiffness' of the joint, it is unlikely that the improved performance resulted from increased discharges from the joint receptors. Cutaneous mechanisms are unlikely to mediate this improvement as they are likely to have been unaffected by engagement of muscles. It is concluded that intramuscular receptors are partly responsible for normal position sense. 4. In seven of the twelve subjects the test finger was anaesthetized to isolate the contribution of intramuscular receptors. This muscle sense was variable. In some subjects it provided accurate kinaesthetic information but in others the information was crude. If with the test finger anaesthetized subjects exerted voluntary tension with the muscles that move the joint the muscle sense was improved.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anesthesia, Local
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Electrophysiology
  • Female
  • Finger Joint / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Muscles / physiology*
  • Neurons, Afferent / physiology
  • Sensation*
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / physiology