Characterizing upper limb muscle volume and strength in older adults: A comparison with young adults

Meghan E. Vidt, Melissa Daly, Michael E. Miller, Cralen C. Davis, Anthony P. Marsh, Katherine R. Saul

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


Aging is associated with the loss of muscle volume (MV) and force leading to difficulties with activities of daily living. However, the relationship between upper limb MV and joint strength has not been characterized for older adults. Quantifying this relationship may help our understanding of the functional declines of the upper limb that older adults experience. Our objective was to assess the relationship between upper limb MV and maximal isometric joint moment-generating capacity (IJM) in a single cohort of healthy older adults (age≥65 years) for 6 major functional groups (32 muscles). MV was determined from MRI for 18 participants (75.1±4.3 years). IJM at the shoulder (abduction/adduction), elbow (flexion/extension), and wrist (flexion/extension) was measured. MV and IJM measurements were compared to previous reports for young adults (28.6±4.5 years). On average older adults had 16.5% less total upper limb MV compared to young adults. Additionally, older adult wrist extensors composed a significantly increased percentage of upper limb MV. Older adult IJM was reduced across all joints, with significant differences for shoulder abductors (p<0.0001), adductors (p=0.01), and wrist flexors (p<0.0001). Young adults were strongest at the shoulder, which was not the case for older adults. In older adults, 40.6% of the variation in IJM was accounted for by MV changes (p≤0.027), compared to 81.0% in young adults. We conclude that for older adults, MV and IJM are, on average, reduced but the significant linear relationship between MV and IJM is maintained. These results suggest that older adult MV and IJM cannot be simply scaled from young adults.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)334-341
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Biomechanics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 10 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Aging
  • Joint moment
  • Muscle volume
  • Strength
  • Upper limb

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Rehabilitation


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