Reflex responses at the human ankle: the importance of tendon compliance

J Physiol. 1983 Nov;344:503-24. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.1983.sp014954.


Subjects with active stretch reflexes responded to an imposed sinusoidal movement of the ankle joint with a reflex force whose amplitude and timing varied widely with changes in the frequency of movement. At some frequency between 6 and 8 Hz, the reflex force tended to offset the non-reflex component of resistance, and thus to reduce the total resistance to movement. At this frequency the reflex response was particularly vigorous, with a deep modulation of electromyogram (e.m.g.) activity and a displacement of the joint stiffness vectors far from their high frequency values. The total resistance to movement might then be small, or it might be zero, or the reflex might actually assist the movement. As the frequency of movement was decreased through this critical range, the timing of the reflex response to movement changed rapidly with an abrupt advancement of the triceps surae e.m.g. signal, and a wide separation of the joint stiffness vectors as they passed close to the origin. This result was attributed to a changing distribution of the movement between the muscle fibres and an elastic Achilles tendon. It was assumed that at most frequencies the muscle fibres resisted extension, so that a major part of the imposed movement went into stretching the tendon; when, however, at 6-8 Hz, the reflex response was so timed as to reduce or abolish the resistance of the muscle fibres, more of the movement would take place in them. The muscle spindles would 'see' this larger movement of the muscle fibres, and generate correspondingly more reflex activity. A simplified model of the muscle-tendon combination behaves in a way that supports this view, and the available information about the human Achilles tendon indicates that it is sufficiently compliant for such an explanation. Therefore, movements imposed on the ankle joint would not necessarily be 'seen' by the muscle spindles, since they would be modified by transmission through a compliant tendon. By assuming a value for the tendon stiffness, it was possible to calculate the course of movements that actually occurred in the muscle fibres and spindles. Records of these spindle movements indicated how some non-linearities might arise.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Ankle Joint / physiology*
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Compliance
  • Electromyography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Biological
  • Movement
  • Muscle Spindles / physiology
  • Muscles / anatomy & histology
  • Muscles / physiology
  • Reflex, Stretch*
  • Tendons / physiology*