Frontiers in Human Neuroscience (Oct 2021)

Evaluating Viscoelastic Properties of the Wrist Joint During External Perturbations: Influence of Velocity, Grip, and Handedness

  • Valeria Falzarano,
  • Valeria Falzarano,
  • Michael W. R. Holmes,
  • Lorenzo Masia,
  • Pietro Morasso,
  • Jacopo Zenzeri

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 15


Read online

In this study, we designed a robot-based method to compute a mechanical impedance model that could extract the viscoelastic properties of the wrist joint. Thirteen subjects participated in the experiment, testing both dominant and nondominant hands. Specifically, the robotic device delivered position-controlled disturbances in the flexion-extension degree of freedom of the wrist. The external perturbations were characterized by small amplitudes and fast velocities, causing rotation at the wrist joint. The viscoelastic characteristics of the mechanical impedance of the joint were evaluated from the wrist kinematics and corresponding torques. Since the protocol used position inputs to determine changes in mean wrist torque, a detailed analysis of wrist joint dynamics could be made. The scientific question was whether and how these mechanical features changed with various grip demands and perturbation velocities. Nine experimental conditions were tested for each hand, given by the combination of three velocity perturbations (fast, medium, and slow) and three hand grip conditions [self-selected grip, medium and high grip force, as percentage of the maximum voluntary contraction (MVC)]. Throughout the experiments, electromyographic signals of the extensor carpi radialis (ECR) and the flexor carpi radialis (FCR) were recorded. The novelty of this work included a custom-made soft grip sensor, wrapped around the robotic handle, to accurately quantify the grip force exerted by the subjects during experimentation. Damping parameters were in the range of measurements from prior studies and consistent among the different experimental conditions. Stiffness was independent of both direction and velocity of perturbations and increased with increasing grip demand. Both damping and stiffness were not different between the dominant and nondominant hands. These results are crucial to improving our knowledge of the mechanical characteristics of the wrist, and how grip demands influence these properties. This study is the foundation for future work on how mechanical characteristics of the wrist are affected in pathological conditions.