Alteration of H-reflex amplitude modulation is a marker of impaired postural responses in individuals with incomplete spinal cord injury

Exp Brain Res. 2021 Jun;239(6):1779-1794. doi: 10.1007/s00221-021-06081-0. Epub 2021 Mar 31.


Individuals with incomplete spinal cord injury (iSCI) show altered postural reactions leading to increased risk of falls. To investigate neural correlates underlying this deficit, we assessed the modulation pattern of the Soleus H-reflex in iSCI individuals following unexpected perturbations of a base of support. Ten men with iSCI (AIS D) and 8 age-matched controls (CTRL) stood on a force-platform randomly tilted forward or backward. The center of pressure (CoP) excursion, 95% confidence ellipse area and electromyographic (EMG) activity of the Soleus (SOL) and Tibialis Anterior (TA) muscles were analyzed. SOL H-reflex amplitude was assessed by stimulating the tibial nerve prior to and at 100, 150 and 200 ms following perturbation onset. Although SOL and TA short-latency EMG responses were comparable in both groups, long-latency EMG responses occurred later in the iSCI group for both directions: during backward tilt, a decrease in H-reflex amplitude was observed at all stimulus timings post-tilt in CTRL, but only at 200 ms in iSCI. The decrease in H-reflex amplitude was smaller in iSCI participants. During forward tilt, an increase in H-reflex amplitude was observed at 150 and 200 ms in the CTRL group, but no increase was observed in the iSCI group. Decreased and delayed SOL H-reflex amplitude modulation in the iSCI group accompanied impaired balance control as assessed clinically with the Berg Balance Scale and biomechanically through CoP displacement. Overall, delayed and reduced spinal reflex processing may contribute to impaired balance control in people with iSCI.

Keywords: Balance; Electromyography; H-reflex; Incomplete spinal cord injury; Perturbation; Postural reactions.

MeSH terms

  • Electromyography
  • H-Reflex*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Muscle, Skeletal
  • Postural Balance
  • Spinal Cord Injuries*
  • Tibial Nerve