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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.

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Richard G. Mynark and David M. Koceja

The spinal stretch reflex consists of a relatively simple neuronal network. The Ia afferent fiber of the muscle spindle communicates to the alpha motoneuron via a single synapse. This basic pathway has been studied extensively over the past century, yet considerable information continues to emerge concerning the manner in which this pathway adapts to aging. It is well accepted that the amplitude of the spinal stretch reflex declines with normal aging, and it is intuitively agreed that these changes have a detrimental impact on the motor output of aging individuals. Understanding the changes observed in the spinal stretch reflex pathway due to aging requires a recognition of the changes that can occur in each component of this spinal network. This review will address these changes by following the spinal stretch reflex from initiation to completion. The components that result in the sensory input to the motoneuron will be covered first, followed by a review of the physiological changes that can occur to the motoneuron soma that can affect the processing of the sensory input. The output of the motoneuron encompasses the remaining components from the motor axon itself, to the neuromuscular junction, and then to the characteristic changes in the muscle. Finally, the functional effect that these changes have on the reflex as a fundamental motor behavior will be addressed, especially in terms of its impact on posture and balance.

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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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Birgit Larsen, Michael Voigt and Michael J. Grey

The influence of pedaling frequency and crank load on the sensitivity of the soleus short latency stretch reflex (SLR) was examined in nine healthy subjects during pedaling by the use of a custom-built robotic actuator. The SLR decreased successively in downstroke when pedaling frequency increased from 20 to 40 and 60 revolutions per minute at a constant crank load (p = .005). The SLR was unchanged at crank load increases of 2.6 or 5.1 Nm at a constant pedaling frequency (p > .05). Accordingly, it was shown that increased muscle activation level as a consequence of added crank load and increased movement speed does not increase the sensitivity of the soleus SLR.

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Mikael Scohier, Dominique De Jaeger and Benedicte Schepens

The purpose of this study was to mechanically evoke a triceps surae stretch reflex during the swing phase of running, to study its within-the-step phase dependency. Seven participants ran on a treadmill at 2.8 m·s−1 wearing an exoskeleton capable of evoking a sudden ankle dorsiflexion. We measured the electromyographic activity of the soleus, medial and lateral gastrocnemii just after the perturbation to evaluate the triceps surae stretch reflex. Similar perturbations were also delivered at rest. Our results showed that the stretch reflex was suppressed during the swing phase of running, except in late swing where a late reflex response was observed. At rest, all triceps surae muscles showed an early reflex response to stretch. Our findings suggest that the triceps surae short/medium-latency stretch reflex cannot be evoked during swing phase and thus cannot contribute to the control of the locomotor pattern after aperturbation during this phase.

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Allyson M. Carter, Stephen J. Kinzey, Linda F. Chitwood and Judith L Cole

Context:

Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) is commonly used before competition to increase range of motion. It is not known how it changes muscle response to rapid length changes.

Objective:

To determine whether PNF alters hamstring muscle activity during response to rapid elongation.

Design:

2 X 2 factorial.

Setting:

Laboratory.

Participants:

Twenty-four women; means: 167.27 cm, 58.92 kg, 21.42 y, 18.41% body fat, 21.06 kg/m2 BMI.

intervention:

Measurements before and after either rest or PNF were compared.

Main Outcome Measures:

Average muscle activity immediately after a rapid and unexpected stretch, 3 times pretreatment and posttreatment, averaged into 2 pre-and post- measures.

Results:

PNF caused decreased activity in the biceps femoris during response to a sudden stretch (P = .04). No differences were found in semitendinosus activity (P = .35).

Conclusions:

Decreased muscle activity likely results from acute desensitization of the muscle spindle, which might increase risk of muscle and tendon injury.

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Asger Roer Pedersen, Peter William Stubbs and Jørgen Feldbæk Nielsen

The aim was to investigate trial-by-trial response characteristics in the short-latency stretch reflex (SSR). Fourteen dorsiflexion stretches were applied to the ankle joint with a precontracted soleus muscle on 2 days. The magnitude and variability of trial-by-trial responses of the SSR were assessed. The SSR was log-normally distributed and variance heterogeneous between subjects. For some subjects, the magnitude and variance differed between days and stretches. As velocity increased, variance heterogeneity tended to decrease and response magnitude increased. The current study demonstrates the need to assess trial-by-trial response characteristics and not averaged curves. Moreover, it provides an analysis of SSR characteristics accounting for log-normally distributed and variance heterogeneous trial-by-trial responses.

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Mark L. Latash

Living systems may be defined as systems able to organize new, biology-specific, laws of physics and modify their parameters for specific tasks. Examples include the force-length muscle dependence mediated by the stretch reflex, and the control of movements with modification of the spatial referent coordinates for salient performance variables. Low-dimensional sets of referent coordinates at a task level are transformed to higher-dimensional sets at lower hierarchical levels in a way that ensures stability of performance. Stability of actions can be controlled independently of the actions (e.g., anticipatory synergy adjustments). Unintentional actions reflect relaxation processes leading to drifts of corresponding referent coordinates in the absence of changes in external load. Implications of this general framework for movement disorders, motor development, motor skill acquisition, and even philosophy are discussed.

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Felipe García-Pinillos, Carlos Lago-Fuentes, Pedro A. Latorre-Román, Antonio Pantoja-Vallejo and Rodrigo Ramirez-Campillo

Context: Plyometric training promotes a highly effective neuromuscular stimulus to improve running performance. Jumping rope (JR) involves mainly foot muscles and joints, due to the quick rebounds, and it might be considered a type of plyometric training for improving power and stiffness, some of the key factors for endurance-running performance. Purpose: To determine the effectiveness of JR during the warm-up routine of amateur endurance runners on jumping performance, reactivity, arch stiffness, and 3-km time-trial performance. Methods: Athletes were randomly assigned to an experimental (n = 51) or control (n = 45) group. Those from the control group were asked to maintain their training routines, while athletes from the experimental group had to modify their warm-up routines, including JR (2–4 sessions/wk, with a total time of 10–20 min/wk) for 10 weeks. Physical tests were performed before (pretest) and after (posttest) the intervention period and included jumping performance (countermovement-jump, squat-jump, and drop-jump tests), foot-arch stiffness, and 3-km time-trial performance. Reactive strength index (RSI) was calculated from a 30-cm drop jump. Results : The 2 × 2 analysis of variance showed significant pre–post differences in all dependent variables (P < .001) for the experimental group. No significant changes were reported in the control group (all P ≥ .05). Pearson correlation analysis revealed a significant relationship between Δ3-km time trial and ΔRSI (r = −.481; P < .001) and ΔStiffness (r = −.336; P < .01). The linear-regression analysis showed that Δ3-km time trial was associated with ΔRSI and ΔStiffness (R 2 = .394; P < .001). Conclusions : Compared with a control warm-up routine prior to endurance-running training, 10 weeks (2–4 times/wk) of JR training, in place of 5 minutes of regular warm-up activities, was effective in improving 3-km time-trial performance, jumping ability, RSI, and arch stiffness in amateur endurance runners. Improvements in RSI and arch stiffness were associated with improvements in 3-km time-trial performance.

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Reijo Bottas, Kari Miettunen, Paavo Komi and Vesa Linnamo

The aim was to examine the acute and delayed effects of exercise-induced muscle damage and soreness on elbow target movements (TM) performance and control. Ten males performed an exercise of 50 maximal eccentric elbow actions. TMs were performed at three movement ranges. Maximal forces, active stretch reflex and TM were tested, and muscle soreness, creatine kinase and elbow joint stiffness were determined acute (after and 2 h) and delayed (2, 4, 6, 8d) postexercise. Both the long lasting muscle soreness and force drop were observed after the exercise. Joint stiffness was increased at 2 h postexercise. The highest deterioration in flexion-TM performance was found at the time (2 h) and at the elbow angles (most flexed) where force drop was the greatest. The increased TM time was concomitant with the flexors changed timing, decreased peak EMG, and with their reduced stretch reflex amplitude. However, the effects on triphasic EMG activity pattern of TM were not joint angle specific. Dysfunction of fastest motor units and the sensitization of small group III / IV muscle afferents might have been responsible for the amplitude modulations of the activity pattern.