Reflex Excitation of Muscles During Human Walking

  • Jens Bo Nielsen
  • Thomas Sinkjær
Part of the Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology book series (AEMB, volume 508)


Sensory activity may contribute to the control of human walking in two different ways. It may contribute to the pre-programmed drive to the motoneurones and to the reactions to unexpected external perturbations. Some recent findings in relation to these two different roles of sensory activity will be reviewed. When unloading the ankle plantarflexors in the stance phase of walking a drop in the soleus EMG activity is seen at a latency of around 60 ms. This drop is likely caused by the removal of the contribution of Gp II afferents from the ankle plantarflexors to the motoneuronal drive. When stretching plantarflexor muscles in the stance phase three reflex responses are generally observed. These responses may be caused by the spinal monosynaptic la reflex pathway, a spinal Gp II pathway and a transcortical reflex pathway, respectively. The reflex responses are modulated with the background EMG activity and may not be evoked in the swing phase when the plantarflexors are not active. In contrast, stretch of the ankle dorsiflexor muscles evoke relatively small responses in the swing phase when these muscles are active, but very large responses in the stance phase when the muscles are silent. Part of these responses may have a transcortical nature. These findings illustrate the complexity with which sensory input may contribute to the ongoing muscle activity during walking and may also mediate adequate responses to sudden external perturbations.


Soleus Muscle Stance Phase Swing Phase Presynaptic Inhibition Human Walking 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Capaday, C., and Stein, R. B., 1986, Amplitude modulation of the soleus H-reflex in the human during walking andstanding Journal of Neuroscience 61308–1313.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Christensen, L. O. D., Andersen, J. B., Sinkjær, T., and Nielsen, J. B., 2001, Transcranial magnetic stimulation and stretch reflexes in the tibialis anterior muscle during human walkingJournal of Physiology 531,545–557. PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Dietz, V., Quintem, J., and Berger, W., 1985, Afferent control of human stance and gait: evidence for blocking of group I afferents during gaitExperimental Brain Research61, 153–163.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Nielsen, J. B., Enriquez-Denton, M., Sinkjaer, T., Morita, H., Christensen, L. O. D., and Petersen, N., 1999, Presynaptic inhibition of excitatory postsynaptic potentials evoked by muscle stretch and electrical nerve stimulation in cat lumbar motoneuronesNeuroscience Abstractspp. 123.Google Scholar
  5. Faist, M., Dietz, V., and Pierrot-Deseilligny, E., 1996, Modulation, probably presynaptic in origin, of monosynaptic Ia excitation during human gaitExperimental Brain Research109, 441–449.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Grey, M., Ladouceur, M., Andersen, J. B., Nielsen, J. B., and Sinkjær, T., 2001, Group II muscle afferents probably contribute to the medium latency soleus stretch reflex during walking in humansJournal of Physiology534, 925–933.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Sinkjær, T., Andersen, J. B., and Larsen, B., 1996, Soleus stretch reflex modulation during gait in humansJournal of Neurophysiology76, 1112–1120.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Sinkjær, T., Andersen, J. B., Nielsen, J. F., and Hansen, H. J., 1999, Soleus long latency stretch reflexes during walking in healthy and spastic humansClinical Neurophysiology110, 951–959.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Sinkjær, T., Andersen, J. B., Ladouceur, M., Christensen, L. O. D., and Nielsen, J. B., 2000, Major role for sensory feedback in soleus EMG activity in the stance phase of walking in manJournal of Physiology523,817–827.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Yang, J. F., Stein, R. B., and James, K. B., 1991, Contribution of peripheral afferents to the activation of the soleus muscle during walking in humansExperimental Brain Research87, 679–687.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Zehr, E. P., and Stein, R. B., 1999, What functions do reflexes serve during human locomotion?Progress in Neurobiology 58,185–205.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jens Bo Nielsen
    • 1
  • Thomas Sinkjær
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Medical PhysiologyUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagen NDenmark
  2. 2.Center for Sensory-Motor InteractionUniversity of AalborgAalborgDenmark

Personalised recommendations