Due to the complexity of applying a well-defined stretch during human walking, most of our knowledge about the short latency stretch reflex modulation in humans is based on H-reflex studies. To illuminate the difference between the two methodologies, both types of reflexes were evoked in the same subjects, same experiment. Stretch reflexes were evoked via a stretch device capable of evoking stretch reflexes of the human soleus muscle during walking. H-reflexes were elicited by an electrical stimulation of the tibial nerve at the popliteal fossa at the knee. A significantly different modulation of the two reflexes was found in the late stance where the stretch reflex decreased in relation to the H-reflex. This was consistent with an unloading of the muscle spindles during the push-off in late stance, suggesting a complex alpha-gamma coactivation, if any, at this time of the step. The soleus stretch reflex and H-reflex were compared during the stance phase of walking and sitting at matched soleus EMG activity. No difference was found in the amplitude of the stretch reflex. However, there was a significant decrease of the H-reflex during the stance phase of walking, consistent with a task-specific presynaptic mediated reflex control. It is proposed that the short latency stretch reflex during walking is not sensitive to such a presynaptic inhibition.
The authors are with the Center for Sensory-Motor Interaction, Dept. Med. Inform. & Image Analysis, Aalborg Univ., Fredrik Bajers Vej 7D-3, DK-9220 Aalborg, Denmark.