Stretch reflexes in the human masticatory muscles: a brief review and a new functional role

Hum Mov Sci. 2004 Oct;23(3-4):337-49. doi: 10.1016/j.humov.2004.08.010.


Stretch reflexes play a vital role in fine-tuning movements and in automatically maintaining posture. This article briefly reviews the operation of the stretch reflex in the human masticatory system. The conventional approach of stretching muscles in an open-loop manner has yielded much valuable information on the operation of this reflex. In particular, it has revealed that stretching the jaw-closing muscles evokes a reflex response with two major components. The short-latency reflex is favoured when stretches are brisk, but slower stretches evoke an additional long-latency component. In the hand muscles, the long-latency response is transcortical: in the masticatory muscles, it is not. In addition to its role in servo-control of muscle length during chewing, the stretch reflex in the jaw-closing muscles maintains the vertical position of the mandible during vigorous head movements such as those that occur during running, jumping, hopping and other vigorous whole-body movements in which the head moves briskly up and down. This is an interesting model system in which to investigate stretch reflexes with natural stimuli under unrestrained, physiological conditions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Electromyography
  • Humans
  • Mandible / physiology
  • Masticatory Muscles / physiology*
  • Reflex, Stretch / physiology*
  • Vertical Dimension