The design of the wrist extensor muscles was studied using a combination of intraoperative laser diffraction and biomechanical modelling of data obtained from human patients and previously published data. Intraoperatively, the change in sarcomere length per degree joint angle rotation (i.e. dSL/d omega) was measured as the wrist was moved from neutral to full flexion in both the extensor carpi radialis brevis (ECRB) and extensor carpi radialis longus (ECRL) muscles. Sarcomere length change per degree rotation was approximately twice as great for the ECRB compared with the ECRL muscle (9.06 +/- 1.06 versus 4.69 +/- 1.20 nm degree-1, mean +/- S.E.M., N = 7). Muscle fibre length and wrist extensor moment arms were obtained from published data and dSL/d omega calculated. The experimental values for dSL/d omega were extremely close to the calculated values. These data demonstrate that architectural differences between the ECRB and ECRL are accentuated by differences between their wrist extensor moment arms. This differential design may permit the extensor muscles, as a group, to generate high force over a wider range of velocities than would be possible with a single muscle or it may permit conservation of mass such that the two muscles together can generate approximately the same force and excursion as a single muscle but with approximately 30% less mass.

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