Reflex activity and muscle tone during elbow movements in patients with spastic paresis

Ann Neurol. 1991 Dec;30(6):767-79. doi: 10.1002/ana.410300605.


Reflex behavior and tension development in upper limb muscles were analyzed and comparisons made between the unaffected and spastic sides of patients with spastic hemiparesis. During sinusoidal (0.3-Hz) isometric or isotonic elbow tracking, with a control either of joint position or of torque, randomly timed displacements were induced (at one of three velocities) stretching either the activated flexor or the extensor muscles. On the spastic side, exaggerated short-latency reflexes were apparent, but in contrast, the amplitude of long-latency electromyography (EMG) responses was reduced. The latter responses were differentially modulated on the unaffected side, predominantly by the acceleration signal during control of position and more by the velocity signal during control of torque, while the mode of muscle contraction (isometric or isotonic) had little influence on this behavior. This difference in reflex modulation was lost on the spastic side. The functional consequence of this reduced EMG modulation could be difficulty in performing finely controlled arm movements. The ratio of torque to EMG activity during displacements was higher for both background and reflex-induced EMG on the spastic limb than on the unaffected side. This effect was more pronounced for the flexor than for the extensor muscles. Consequently, the development of spastic muscle hypertonia cannot be attributed to an increase in EMG activity. It is suggested that secondary to a supraspinal lesion, mechanical muscle properties change in such a way that the activated spastic muscle develops more tension when it is stretched.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Elbow Joint / physiopathology*
  • Electromyography
  • Female
  • Hemiplegia / complications
  • Hemiplegia / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Movement
  • Muscle Contraction
  • Muscle Hypertonia / etiology
  • Muscle Hypertonia / physiopathology*
  • Muscle Spasticity
  • Muscles / physiopathology
  • Reflex, Abnormal*
  • Stress, Mechanical