Chimpanzee thumb muscle cross sections, moment arms and potential torques, and comparisons with humans

Mary W. Marzke, R. F. Marzke, R. L. Linscheid, P. Smutz, B. Steinberg, S. Reece, K. N. An

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


This study investigates the morphological basis of differences between humans and chimpanzees in the kinematical and dynamical parameters of the musculature of the thumb. It is partly intended to test an hypothesis that human thumb muscles can exert significantly greater torques, due to larger muscle cross-sectional areas or to longer tendon moment arms or to both. We focus on the estimation of the potentials of thumb muscles to exert torques about joint axes in a sample of eight chimpanzee cadaver hands. The potential torque of a muscle is estimated by taking the product of a muscle's physiological cross-sectional area (an estimator of force) with its dynamical moment arm (derived from the slope of tendon excursion versus joint angular displacement, obtained during passive movements of cadaver thumb joints). Comparison of our results with similar data obtained for humans at the same Mayo Clinic laboratory shows significant differences between humans and chimpanzees in potential torque of most thumb muscles, those of humans generally exhibiting larger values. The primary reason for the larger torques in humans is that their average moment arms are significantly longer, permitting greater torque for a given muscle size. An additional finding is that chimpanzees and humans differ in the direction of secondary thumb metacarpal movements elicited by contraction of some muscles, as shown by differences in moment arm signs for a given movement in the same muscle. The differences appear to be related to differences in the musculo-skeletal structures of the trapeziometacarpal joint.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)163-178
Number of pages16
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 1 1999


  • Biomechanics
  • Fossil hominids
  • Hand
  • Morphology
  • Muscle

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Anthropology


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