Plantarflexor stretch training increases reciprocal inhibition measured during voluntary dorsiflexion
Faculty of Computing, Health and Science
School of Exercise and Health Sciences / Centre for Exercise and Sports Science Research
Agonist-mediated reciprocal inhibition (RI) in distal skeletal muscles is an important neurophysiological phenomenon leading to improved movement coordination and efficiency. It has been shown to be reduced in aged and clinical populations, so the development of interventions augmenting RI is an important research goal. We examined the efficacy of using chronic passive muscle stretching to augment RI. The influence of 3 wk of plantarflexor stretching (4 × 30 s, two times/day) on RI of soleus and gastrocnemius initiated by tonic, voluntary dorsiflexion contractions [20% of maximum voluntary contraction (MVC)] was examined in 11 healthy men who performed stretch training and in nine nontraining controls. Hoffmann's reflexes (H-reflexes) were elicited by tibial nerve stimulation during both weak isometric (2% MVC) plantarflexions and dorsiflexion contractions at 20% MVC. Changes were examined at three joint angles, normalized to each subject's range of motion (ROM; plantarflexed = 10 ± 0°, neutral = −3.3 ± 2.9°, dorsiflexed = −16.5 ± 5.6°). No changes were detected in controls. A 20% increase in ROM in the stretch subjects was associated with a significant decrease in maximum H-reflex (Hmax): maximum evoked potential (Mmax), measured during 2% plantarflexion at the plantarflexed and neutral angles in soleus and at the plantarflexed angle in gastrocnemius (P < 0.05–0.01). By contrast, decreases in Hmax:Mmax during 20% dorsiflexion contract were also seen at each angle in soleus and at the dorsiflexed angle in gastrocnemius. However, a greater decrease in Hmax:Mmax measured during voluntary dorsiflexion rather than during plantarflexion, which indicates a specific change in RI, was detected only at the dorsiflexed angle (−30.7 ± 9.4% and −35.8 ± 6.8% for soleus and gastrocnemius, respectively). These results demonstrate the efficacy of soleus-gastrocnemius stretch training in increasing agonist-mediated RI from tibialis anterior onto soleus-gastrocnemius in young, healthy individuals at dorsiflexed, but not plantarflexed, joint angles.