Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Vastus medialis motor unit properties in knee osteoarthritis

Michael J Berger12*, David G Chess23 and Timothy J Doherty124

Author Affiliations

1 School of Kinesiology, Faculty of Health Sciences, The University of Western Ontario, London, ON, Canada

2 Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, The University of Western Ontario, London, ON, Canada

3 Hand and Upper Limb Centre, St. Joseph's Health Care, The University of Western Ontario, London, ON, Canada

4 The Departments of Clinical Neurological Sciences and Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, The University of Western Ontario, London, ON, Canada

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BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2011, 12:199  doi:10.1186/1471-2474-12-199

Published: 13 September 2011



Maximal isometric quadriceps strength deficits have been widely reported in studies of knee osteoarthritis (OA), however little is known about the effect of osteoarthritis knee pain on submaximal quadriceps neuromuscular function. The purpose of this study was to measure vastus medialis motor unit (MU) properties in participants with knee OA, during submaximal isometric contractions.


Vastus medialis motor unit potential (MUP) parameters were assessed in 8 patients with knee OA and 8 healthy, sex and age-matched controls during submaximal isometric contractions (20% of maximum isometric torque). Unpaired t-tests were used to compare groups for demographic and muscle parameters.


Maximum knee extension torque was ~22% lower in the OA group, a difference that was not statistically significantly (p = 0.11). During submaximal contractions, size related parameters of the needle MUPs (e.g. negative peak duration and amplitude-to-area ratio) were greater in the OA group (p < 0.05), with a rightward shift in the frequency distribution of surface MUP negative peak amplitude. MUP firing rates were significantly lower in the OA group (p < 0.05).


Changes in MU recruitment and rate coding strategies in OA may reflect a chronic reinnervation process or a compensatory strategy in the presence of chronic knee pain associated with OA.