Human finger independence: Limitations due to passive mechanical coupling versus active neuromuscular control

Catherine E. Lang, Marc H. Schieber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

152 Scopus citations


We studied the extent to which mechanical coupling and neuromuscular control limit finger independence by studying passive and active individuated finger movements in healthy adults. For passive movements, subjects relaxed while each finger was rotated into flexion and extension by a custom-built device. For active movements, subjects moved each finger into flexion and extension while attempting to keep the other, noninstructed fingers still. Active movements were performed through approximately the same joint excursions and at approximately the same speeds as the passive movements. We quantified how mechanical coupling limited finger independence from the passive movements, and quantified how neuromuscular control limited finger independence using an analysis that subtracted the indices obtained in the passive condition from those obtained in the active condition. Finger independence was generally similar during passive and active movements, but showed a trend toward less independence in the middle, ring, and little fingers during active, large-arc movements. Mechanical coupling limited the independence of the index, middle, and ring fingers to the greatest degree, followed by the little finger, and placed only negligible limitations on the independence of the thumb. In contrast, neuromuscular control primarily limited the independence of the ring, and little fingers during large-arc movements, and had minimal effects on the other fingers, especially during small-arc movements. For the movement conditions tested here, mechanical coupling between the fingers appears to be a major factor limiting the complete independence of finger movement.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2802-2810
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2004


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