The modulation of the soleus H reflex in response to functional electrical stimulation (FES) of the rectus femoris (RF) muscle and its overlying skin was examined in 11 normal adults and 6 patients with a clinically defined complete spinal cord injury (SCI). Stimulation of RF at twice motor threshold (MT) resulted in a long-lasting (>1,000 ms) and significant reduction (50-70% of control) in the size of the soleus H reflex in all normal subjects tested. For five of the SCI subjects, 2MT stimulation of RF induced a 55-60% reduction in the soleus H reflex that was also long-lasting (>160 ms). In the remaining SCI subject, 2MT stimulation resulted in an initial period of significant H-reflex facilitation (0-14 ms) that was followed by a longer-lasting inhibition commencing 60 ms after the cessation of the conditioning stimulation. Decreasing the strength of stimulation to below that required to generate a clear contraction in RF resulted in mixed facilitatory and inhibitory actions that were subject dependent. The changes in H-reflex excitability resulting from FES highlight the potential use of FES in the management of hypertonicity in SCI but also suggest that the central actions of FES need to be considered when FES gait restoration programs are designed.
- functional electrical stimulation
- H reflex
- muscle contraction
- reflex excitability
- spinal cord injury