This paper presents the analysis of a third-order linear differential equation representing a muscle-tendon system, including the identification of critical damping conditions.
We analytically verified that this model is required for a faithful representation of muscle-skeletal muscles and provided numerical examples using the biomechanical properties of muscles and tendon reported in the literature.
We proved the existence of a theoretical threshold for the ratio between tendon and muscle stiffness above which critical damping can never be achieved, thus resulting in an oscillatory free response of the system, independently of the value of the damping. Oscillation of the limb can be compensated only by active control, which requires creating an internal model of the limb mechanics.
We demonstrated that, when admissible, over-damping of the muscle-tendon system occurs for damping values included within a finite interval between two separate critical limits. The same interval is a semi-infinite region in second-order models. Moreover, an increase in damping beyond the second critical point rapidly brings the system to mechanical instability.