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Exp Neurol. 2007 Mar;204(1):171-81. Epub 2006 Nov 22.

Hip-phase-dependent flexion reflex modulation and expression of spasms in patients with spinal cord injury.

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Sensory Motor Performance Program, Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60610, USA.


The flexion reflex in human spinal cord injury (SCI) is believed to incorporate interneuronal circuits that consist elements of the stepping generator while ample evidence suggest that hip proprioceptive input is a controlling signal of locomotor output. In this study, we examined the expression of the non-nociceptive flexion reflex in response to imposed sinusoidal passive movements of the ipsilateral hip in human SCI. The flexion reflex was elicited by low-intensity stimulation (300 Hz, 30 ms pulse train) of the right sural nerve at the lateral malleolus, and recorded from the tibialis anterior (TA) muscle. Sinusoidal hip movements were imposed to the right hip joint at 0.2 Hz by a Biodex system while subjects were supine. The effects of leg movement on five leg muscles along with hip, knee, and ankle joint torques were established simultaneously with the modulation pattern of the flexion reflex during hip oscillations. Phase-dependent modulation of the flexion reflex was present during hip movement, with the reflex to be significantly facilitated during hip extension and suppressed during hip flexion. The phase-dependent flexion reflex modulation coincided with no changes in TA pre- and post-stimulus background ongoing activity during hip extension and flexion. Reflexive muscle and joint torque responses, induced by the hip movement and substantiated by excitation of flexion reflex afferents, were entrained to specific phases of hip movement. Joint torque responses were consistent with multi-joint spasmodic muscle activity, which was present mostly during the transition phase of the hip from flexion to extension and from mid- to peak extension. Our findings provide further evidence on the interaction of hip proprioceptors with spinal interneuronal circuits engaged in locomotor pathways, and such interaction should be considered in rehabilitation protocols employed to restore sensorimotor function in people with SCI.

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