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Modulation of slow and fast elbow extensor EMG tonic activity by stretch reflexes in man

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Reflex EMG responses to sudden passive flexion of the elbow were recorded from anconeus and triceps brachii in 5 human volunteers.

While the subjects were required not to resist the flexion movement, they were required to maintain an extension torque of 3.5 or 7.0 Nm prior to its onset.

Under these isotonic conditions, the latency and amplitude of the reflex activities from anconeus and triceps brachii did not differ significantly, in contrast to the findings of Le Bozec (1986) in actively relaxed subjects. The myotatic/postmyotatic EMG amplitude ratio did not provide a further quantitative way to distinguish between these muscles.

The absence of a difference between the reflex activities of a slow (anconeus) and a fast (triceps brachii) muscle is interpreted as resulting from a strong drive of spindle activity on the whole extensor motoneuron pool, which outweights the differences in recruitment due to the differing relative amounts of type I and type II fibres in the two muscles. Differences like those described between finger and calf muscles by other authors are though to be due to the relative degree of corticalization of these muscles.

All short and long latency responses of the muscles increased in magnitude and decreased in latency with increasing background EMG activity as well as with increasing initial length. The position and tonic activity dependency of these responses is explained in terms of alpha-gamma coactivation.

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Correspondence to K. Bejaoui.

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Bejaoui, K., Le Bozec, S. & Maton, B. Modulation of slow and fast elbow extensor EMG tonic activity by stretch reflexes in man. Europ. J. Appl. Physiol. 56, 97–104 (1987). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00696383

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Key words

  • Short and long latency stretch reflexes
  • Fast and slow elbow extensor muscles
  • EMG