Tonic vibration reflexes elicited during fatigue from maximal voluntary contractions in man

J Physiol. 1990 Apr;423:1-14. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.1990.sp018007.


1. In the present study on human foot dorsiflexor muscles we have examined the effects of high-frequency (150 Hz) muscle vibration on weak or moderate voluntary contractions (maintained by constant effort) and on maximal voluntary contractions (MCVs) of (i) non-fatigued muscles, (ii) muscles fatigued by sustained MVCs and (iii) muscles deprived of gamma-fibre innervation by partial anaesthetic nerve block. The motor outcome of the voluntary dorsiflexion efforts was assessed by measuring the firing rates of single motor units in the anterior tibial (TA) muscle, the mean voltage EMG activity from the pretibial muscles and foot dorsiflexion force. 2. With the subject instructed to exert constant effort in maintaining a weak or moderate contraction, superimposed vibration caused an enhancement of EMG activity and contraction force. 3. Previous claims that muscle vibration has no facilitatory effect on motor output in MVCs were found to hold true for non-fatigued but not for fatigued muscles. Thus, the fatigue-induced decline in EMG activity and motor unit firing rates was counteracted by short periods (less than 10-20 s) of superimposed vibration. However, with longer vibration periods it seemed as if the initial facilitation converted into an opposite effect which accentuated the fatigue-induced decline in motor output and contraction force. 4. Like muscle fatigue, a partial anesthetic block of the deep peroneal nerve, supposedly interrupting transmission in gamma-motor fibres, caused a reduction of MVC motor unit firing rates which could be counteracted by muscle vibration. In prolonged MVCs performed during the block, motor unit firing rates did not show the normal progressive decline from an initially high level, but stayed at a relatively constant low level throughout the contraction period. 5. Even though alternative interpretations are possible, the results agree with the hypotheses (i) that in sustained MVCs, fatigue processes occur not only in extrafusal but also in intrafusal muscle fibres, (ii) that the intrafusal fatigue leads to a reduction of the voluntary drive conveyed to the alpha-motoneurones via the gamma-loop and (iii) that vibration-induced activity in group Ia afferents can act as a substitute for the diminished fusimotor drive.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Afferent Pathways / physiology
  • Electromyography
  • Electrophysiology
  • Fatigue / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Neurons / physiology
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology*
  • Reflex / physiology
  • Vibration*