, Volume 243, Issue 8, pp 566-574

Impaired stretch reflex and joint torque modulation during spastic gait in multiple sclerosis patients

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The modulation of the short latency stretch reflex of the soleus muscle during walking was investigated in seven spastic multiple sclerosis (MS) patients and nine healthy control subjects. Ankle joint stretches were applied by a system which can rotate that ankle joint in any phase of the step cycle during treadmill walking. The torque related to the muscle fibres contracting prior to the stretch and the passive tissues around the ankle joint were measured as the “non-reflex torque”. At the same time the short latency stretch reflex-mediated EMG response was measured. The findings show that the stretch reflex modulation was impaired in spastic patients during walking. The stretch reflex modulation was quantified by a modulation index of on average 50% (range −5 to 100%) in the patients and 93% (78–100%) in the control subjects (P < 0.05). The passive stiffness of the ankle joint was at the same time increased in the patients (P < 0.05). It is proposed that the impaired modulation of the stretch reflex along with increased ankle joint stiffness contribute to the impaired walking ability in spastic MS patients.