Stretch reflex adaptation in elbow flexors during repeated passive movements in unilateral brain-injured patients

Brian D. Schmit*, Julius P.A. Dewald, W. Zev Rymer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

88 Scopus citations


Objective: To evaluate the effects of repeated, externally imposed, flexion-extension movements of the elbow on the resulting stretch reflex response in hemiparetic spastic brain-injured patients. These effects were compared within a recording session and across sessions for the same subject to determine the impact of movement history on the quantification of spastic hypertonia using the stretch reflex response. Design: Twenty to 30 sequential, constant velocity flexion-extension movements were applied to the impaired elbow of our cohort, with a 10-second hold interposed between flexion and extension. Movements were applied regularly at 1-minute intervals. Changes in stretch reflex responses were monitored during the applied movements. Participants: We examined a convenience sample of seven hemiparetic brain-injured subjects between the ages of 26 and 60yrs, with moderate-to-severe spastic hypertonia of elbow muscles (Ashworth score 2- 4/4). Subjects participated in 2 to 9 sessions. Measures: Elbow torque, position, velocity, and electromyograms of the biceps, brachioradialis, and triceps muscles were recorded for each flexion and extension movement. Stretch reflex torque was calculated by subtracting passive torque from total elbow torque, recorded over large amplitude movements. A linear regression analysis quantified both the initial torque response of the stretch reflex and the ensuing adaptation of the stretch reflex during sequential movements. Intersession variability was characterized both for spastic hypertonia measures and for stretch reflex adaptation. Results: Repeated, externally imposed, sequential flexion-extension movements of the elbow decreased the elbow flexor stretch reflex in six of seven subjects. The mean reduction in reflex torque after 30 movements was 50% of the initial torque values (p = .001, t test vs 0% change). Intersession stretch reflex responses for each subject were found to vary greatly (SDs of reflex torque ranged from 0.1 to 4.0Nm), and there were also significant variations in the degree of adaptation between subjects. Conclusions: Stretch reflex adaptation must be taken into consideration when spastic hypertonia is quantified using repeated joint motion, as is often the case. The magnitude of intersession variation in spastic hypertonia measures suggests that ideally, such measurements should be made across multiple sessions before conclusions are made regarding the efficacy of spastic hypertonia interventions. This study provides quantitative evidence that repeated joint movements may have a significant short-term beneficial effect on spastic hypertonia. (C) 2000 by the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine and the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)269-278
Number of pages10
JournalArchives of physical medicine and rehabilitation
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2000


  • Cerebrovascular disorders
  • Muscle spasticity
  • Physical therapy
  • Stretch reflex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Rehabilitation


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