Excitability of the soleus H reflex during graded walking in humans.Acta Physiol Scand. 1995 Jan; 153(1):21-32.AP
The excitability of the soleus Hoffmann (H) reflex was measured in five healthy male subjects during graded treadmill walking. Uphill and downhill walking at an 8% grade as well as level walking were used to vary the demands for lengthening and shortening contractions of the soleus muscle. These changes were assumed to cause differences in control of the afferent input in the spinal cord and the voluntary output to the soleus muscle. The H reflex was strongly modulated in all three walking conditions, high during the stance phase and low or absent during the swing phase. The shape of the modulations was, however, different. At uphill walking the reflex increased gradually during the whole stance phase and seemed to follow the soleus electromyogram (EMG) pattern closely. In the downhill condition the reflex excitability increased rapidly at heel strike like the soleus EMG and co-contraction of the anterior tibial muscle was observed. At level walking a fast rise in reflex excitability was seen just after heel strike with low or absent soleus EMG. Mean soleus EMG was lower during downhill than during uphill or level walking, but the mean H reflex amplitude was similar in all three conditions. However, when the H reflex was related directly to the EMG activity by linear regression the reflex gain was lower during uphill walking than in the two other conditions. Furthermore, the ratio between H reflex and EMG amplitude was high during the first half of the stance phase at level walking indicating an elevated reflex excitability independent of the voluntary motor output. It is therefore concluded that the modulation of reflexes during walking cannot be interpreted in terms of the idea of automatic gain compensation. The reflexes must be controlled specifically and independently during the different phases of the motor output to meet the mechanical requirements of the movement task. Most explicitly this was seen during downhill walking, where an elevated reflex excitability together with co-contraction at the ankle joint seem to provide increased joint stiffness and security, when the kinetic energy of the body has to be brought under control at heel strike.