In-vivo function of the thumb muscles

Kenton R. Kaufman, Kai Nan An, William J. Litchy, William P. Cooney, Edmund Y.S. Chao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Objective. The purpose of this study is to quantify the electrical activity of the thumb muscles responsible for the production of force in different directions of thumb movement. Design. The isometric forces and electromyographic activity generated by seven thumb muscles were measured on five normal healthy test subjects. Background. The thumb is very important for proper hand function. Presently available electromyographic studies of the thumb muscles provide only limited information. Most thumb muscles have more than one function. Additional studies are required to carefully examine and confirm the in-vivo relationship between the thumb muscle electromyogram and mechanical output. Methods. The direction and magnitude of the force vector generated at the interphalangeal joint and the relative electrical activity were obtained for eight directions of thumb action. The regions of function were defined for the abductor pollicis brevis, opponens pollicis, flexor pollicis brevis, adductor pollicis, flexor pollicis longus, extensor pollicis longus, and the abductor pollicis longus. Data was collected during voluntary isometric contraction, both before and after blocking the median nerve at the wrist. Results. The highest force production was obtained during flexion. The region of maximal muscle electrical activity varied for each muscle studied. The areas of maximal in-vivo muscle activity agreed with the moment arm data reported in the literature. The median nerve block eliminated the ability to produce force in abduction. Conclusions. This study has demonstrated that by combining electromyographic measurement and biomechanical analysis it is possible to confirm the relationship between in-vivo thumb muscle function and muscle mechanics in a novel manner. The findings of this study indicate the importance of the local anatomy in controlling the direction of force production.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)141-150
Number of pages10
JournalClinical Biomechanics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1999


  • Electromyographic activity
  • Median nerve
  • Muscle force
  • Thumb

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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