Rebound responses to prolonged flexor reflex stimuli in human spinal cord injury

Ming Wu*, Jennifer H. Kahn, T. George Hornby, Brian D. Schmit

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The purpose of this study was to examine the reflex effects of electrical stimulation applied to the thigh using skin electrodes, targeting the sensory fibers of the rectus femoris and sartorius, in people with spinal cord injury (SCI). Thirteen individuals with SCI were recruited to participate in experiments using prolonged electrical stimuli on the right medial thigh over the regions of the sartorius and rectus femoris muscles. Three stimuli, spaced 20 s apart, were applied at 30 Hz for 1 s at four different intensities (15-60 mA) while subjects rested in a seated position. Isometric joint torques of the hip, knee and ankle, and electromyograms (EMGs) from six muscles of the leg were recorded during the stimulation. Early in the stimulation, a flexion response was observed at the hip and ankle, analogous to a flexor reflex; however, this response was usually followed by a "rebound" response consisting of hip extension, knee flexion and ankle plantarflexion, occurring in 10/13 subjects. Stimuli applied in a more lateral (mid thigh) electrode position (i.e. over the rectus femoris) were less effective in producing the response than medial placement, despite vigorous quadriceps activation. This complex reflex response is consistent with activation of a coordinating spinal circuit that could play a role in motor function. The reversal of the reflex pattern emphasizes the potential connection between skin/muscle afferents of the thigh, possibly including sartorius muscle afferents and locomotor reflex centers. This knowledge may be helpful in identifying rehabilitation strategies for enhancing gait training in human SCI.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)225-237
Number of pages13
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2009


  • Flexor reflex
  • Pattern generator
  • Spinal cord injury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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