Bilateral and asymmetrical contributions of passive and active ankle plantar flexors stiffness to spasticity in humans with spinal cord injury

Bing Chen, Sina Sangari, Jakob Lorentzen, Jens B. Nielsen, Monica A. Perez*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Spasticity is one of the most common symptoms present in humans with spinal cord injury (SCI); however, its clinical assessment remains underdeveloped. The purpose of the study was to examine the contribution of passive muscle stiffness and active spinal reflex mechanisms to clinical outcomes of spasticity after SCI. It is important that passive and active contributions to increased muscle stiffness are distinguished to make appropriate decisions about antispastic treatments and to monitor its effectiveness. To address this question, we combined biomechanical and electrophysiological assessments of ankle plantarflexor muscles bilaterally in individuals with and without chronic SCI. Spasticity was assessed using the Modified Ashworth Scale (MAS) and a self-reported questionnaire. We performed slow and fast dorsiflexion stretches of the ankle joint to measure passive muscle stiffness and reflex-induced torque using a dynamometer and the soleus H reflex using electrical stimulation over the posterior tibial nerve. All SCI participants reported the presence of spasticity. While 96% of them reported higher spasticity on one side compared with the other, the MAS detected differences across sides in only 25% of the them. Passive muscle stiffness and the reflex-induced torque were larger in SCI compared with controls more on one side compared with the other. The soleus stretch reflex, but not the H reflex, was larger in SCI compared with controls and showed differences across sides, with a larger reflex in the side showing a higher reflex-induced torque. MAS scores were not correlated with biomechanical and electrophysiological outcomes. These findings provide evidence for bilateral and asymmetric contributions of passive and active ankle plantar flexors stiffness to spasticity in humans with chronic SCI and highlight a poor agreement between a self-reported questionnaire and the MAS for detecting asymmetries in spasticity across sides. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Spasticity affects a number of people with spinal cord injury (SCI). Using biomechanical, electrophysiological, and clinical assessments, we found that passive muscle properties and active spinal reflex mechanisms contribute bilaterally and asymmetrically to spasticity in ankle plantarflexor muscles in humans with chronic SCI. A self-reported questionnaire had poor agreement with the Modified Ashworth Scale in detecting asymmetries in spasticity. The nature of these changes might contribute to the poor sensitivity of clinical exams.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)973-984
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Volume124
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2020

Keywords

  • Biomechanical
  • H reflex
  • Modified Ashworth Scale
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Stretch reflex
  • Upper motor neuron

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Physiology

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