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Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1995 Apr;27(4):556-65.

Effects of stimulation intensity on the physiological responses of human motor units.

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  • 1Department of Physical Therapy, University of Delaware, Newark 19716, USA.


Quadriceps femoris muscles were studied in 50 healthy subjects to determine the physiological responses of the motor units recruited at different force levels during transcutaneous electrical stimulation. During one set of experiments force-frequency relationships were compared at stimulation intensities that produced tetanic contraction of 20%, 50%, or 80% of the maximum voluntary isometric contraction (MVC). No differences in the normalized force-frequency relationship were observed between the 20% and 50% of MVC conditions and only a slight shift to the left was observed at 80% of MVC. The other set of experiments measured the responses to electrically elicited fatigue tests using frequencies of 20, 40, or 60 pps and, at each frequency, intensities that produced 20% or 50% of MVC. Fatigue was greater for the 50% than 20% MVC force conditions. Within each force level fatigue increased with increasing frequency. However, though the differences in the level of recruitment needed to produce the two forces varied for each frequency, the differences in the amount of fatigue produced at each force did not vary between the three stimulation frequencies. This suggests that the fatigue characteristics of the recruited motor units were similar at all intensities tested. We posit, therefore, that the physiological recruitment order during transcutaneous electrical stimulation is less orderly than previously suggested.

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