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Jacob Buus Andersen and Thomas Sinkjaer

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.

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Michael J. Grey, Charles W. Pierce, Theodore E. Milner and Thomas Sinkjaer

The modulation and strength of the human soleus short latency stretch reflex was investigated by mechanically perturbing the ankle during an unconstrained pedaling task. Eight subjects pedaled at 60 rpm against a preload of 10 Nm. A torque pulse was applied to the crank at various positions during the crank cycle, producing ankle dorsiflexion perturbations of similar trajectory. The stretch reflex was greatest during the power phase of the crank cycle and was decreased to the level of background EMG during recovery. Matched perturbations were induced under static conditions at the same crank angle and background soleus EMG as recorded during the power phase of active pedaling. The magnitude of the stretch reflex during the dynamic condition was not statistically different from that during the static condition throughout the power phase of the movement. The results of this study indicate that the stretch reflex is not depressed during active cycling as has been shown with the H-reflex. This lack of depression may reflect a decreased susceptibility of the stretch reflex to inhibition, possibly originating from presynaptic mechanisms.