Can the VMO be selectively activated?

They have a common nerve innervation, so many studies say no. Perhaps altering internal/external orientation of the lower extremity (1) or joint angles (2) may play a role. Of course, it also depends on how you are measuring (3). Intramuscular seems to be most accurate!

In the Link Below, section 4, is a nice, brief review of the literature. Thanks to Daithi Grey for the inspiration to put this up!

1. J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Sep;28(9):2536-45. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000582.
Range of motion and leg rotation affect electromyography activation levels of the superficial quadriceps muscles during leg extension.Signorile JF1, Lew KM, Stoutenberg M, Pluchino A, Lewis JE, Gao J.

2. Phys Ther Sport. 2013 Feb;14(1):44-9. doi: 10.1016/j.ptsp.2012.02.006. Epub 2012 Jun 26.
Muscle activation of vastus medialis obliquus and vastus lateralis during a dynamic leg press exercise with and without isometric hip adduction. Peng HT1, Kernozek TW, Song CY.

3. J Electromyogr Kinesiol. 2013 Apr;23(2):443-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jelekin.2012.10.003. Epub 2012 Nov 8.
The VMO:VL activation ratio while squatting with hip adduction is influenced by the choice of recording electrode. Wong YM1, Straub RK, Powers CM.

10 Principles of Patellofemoral Rehabilitation – Mike Reinold

“Emphasize the QuadricepsThe next principle of patellofemoral rehabilitation is to strengthen the knee extensor musculature. Some authors have recommended emphasis on enhancing the activation of the VMO in patellofemoral patients based on reports of isolated VMO insufficiency and asynchronous neuromuscular timing between the VMO and VL.While the literature offers conflicted reports on selective recruitment and neuromuscular timing of the vasti musculature, the VMO may have a greater biomechanical effect on medial stabilization of the patella than knee extension due to the angle of pull of the muscle fibers at approximately 50-55 degrees.  Wilk et al(JOSPT 1998) suggest that the VMO should only be emphasized if the angle of insertion of the VMO on the patella is in a position in which it may offer a certain degree of dynamic or active lateral stabilization.  As you can see by the figure, if the fibers are not aligned in a position to assist with patellar stabilization, VMO training will likely not be effective.  This orientation of the muscle fibers will differ from patient to patient and can be visualized.Several interventions and exercise modifications have been advocated to effectively increase the VMO:VL ratio, based mostly on anecdotal observations. These include hip adduction, internal tibial rotation, and patellar taping and bracing. Powers(JOSPT 1998) reports that isolation of VMO activation may not be possible during exercise, stating that several studies have shown that selective VMO function was not found during quadriceps strengthening exercises, exercises incorporating hip adduction, or exercises incorporating internal tibial rotation. Powers also states that although the literature offers varying support for VMO strengthening, successful clinical results have been found while utilizing this treatment approach.My belief is that quadriceps strengthening exercises should be incorporated into patellofemoral rehabilitation programs. Strength deficits of the quadriceps may lead to altered biomechanical properties of the patellofemoral and tibiofemoral joints. Any change in quadriceps force on the patella may modify the resultant force vector produced by the synergistic pull of the quadriceps and patellar tendons, thus altering contact location and pressure distribution of joint forces. Furthermore, the quadriceps musculature serves as a shock absorber during weightbearing and joint compression, any abnormal deviations in quadriceps strength may result in further strain on the patellofemoral and/or tibiofemoral joint.In reality, I believe that quadriceps strengthening is very important for patellofemoral rehabilitation, but many exercises designed to “enhance VMO” strength or activation may actually be disadvantageous to the joint.  Take for example the classic squeezing of the ball during closed kinetic chain exercises such as squatting and leg press.  This creates an IR and adduction moment at the hip that is now known to be detrimental to patellofemoral patients.  I would actually propose that we work on quadriceps strengthening without an adduction component and rather emphasize hip adbuction and external rotation.  This can be performed with the use of a piece of exercise band around the patient’s knees during these exercises. “

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