Analysis of short-latency reflexes in human elbow flexor muscles

J Neurophysiol. 1995 May;73(5):1900-11. doi: 10.1152/jn.1995.73.5.1900.


1. A motor and digital controller have been developed to apply rapid stretches to the human elbow joint. The digital controller returns the forearm to the initial position before the reflex contraction. Thus short-latency reflex responses can be cleanly separated in time from the mechanical effects of the stretch under a wide variety of loading conditions. 2. The reflex force varies linearly with the velocity of stretch over nearly 2 orders of magnitude. The reflex force also varies linearly with the tonic level of force over the entire range of forces studied (0-100 N). This contrasts sharply with, for example, the human ankle joint, which shows a very limited linear range. 3. As the digital controller is made more compliant (less stiff), reflex shortening increases dramatically and becomes more prolonged, whereas the reflex force becomes somewhat smaller and shorter. With compliant loads and the brief stretches we applied, the reflex shortening is approximately equal to the stretch that generated it. 4. Simulations of the results confirm that the dependence of reflex shortening and force on the stiffness of the load is mainly determined by the mechanics of the limb and muscles. The simulations also indicate that 1) the gain of the reflex is as high as it can be without causing instability and 2) the presence of a rectification nonlinearity (e.g., lengthening the muscle produces a reflex, but shortening the muscle does not) is mainly responsible for preserving the stability of the elbow system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Elbow Joint / physiology*
  • Electromyography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Kinetics
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology*
  • Reflex, Stretch / physiology*