Experimental muscle pain increases the human stretch reflex

Pain. 1998 Apr;75(2-3):331-9. doi: 10.1016/s0304-3959(98)00012-8.


In this study we investigated the effect of human experimental muscle pain on H- and stretch reflexes as indicators of changes in muscle spindle sensitivity. Fourteen healthy, male volunteers participated in the study. Muscle pain was produced by infusion of 5% hypertonic saline over a period of 10-15 min in m. soleus and in m. tibialis anterior. Reflexes were elicited in the relaxed and active soleus muscle (10-15 Nm ankle torque) before, during and after muscle pain. Control measurements were made with infusions of 0.9% isotonic saline. Surface electromyograms (EMG) were measured from the soleus muscle, and torque was measured from the ankle joint. With pain in the soleus muscle the mechanical stretch reflex response (ankle torque) increased significantly (P = 0.0007) as compared to before pain. With pain in the tibialis anterior muscle both the mechanical and EMG responses increased significantly (P = 0.001; P = 0.0003) as compared to before pain. The H-reflex showed no significant changes during the infusions in either muscles. This study has demonstrated a muscle pain-related increase in the amplitude of the stretch reflex without a corresponding increase in the H-reflex amplitude. One explanation could be an increased dynamic sensitivity of the muscle spindles during muscle pain caused by an increased firing rate in the dynamic gamma-motoneurones. However, the data could not support the vicious cycle model because the excitability of the alpha-motoneurone pool was unchanged.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Electromyography
  • H-Reflex / physiology
  • Humans
  • Injections, Intramuscular
  • Isotonic Solutions / pharmacology
  • Male
  • Muscles / drug effects
  • Muscles / physiopathology*
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Reflex, Stretch / physiology*
  • Saline Solution, Hypertonic / pharmacology
  • Sodium Chloride / pharmacology
  • Torque


  • Isotonic Solutions
  • Saline Solution, Hypertonic
  • Sodium Chloride