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Spinal reflex pattern to foot nociceptive stimulation in standing humans

Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology/Electromyography and Motor Control
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/s0924-980x(97)00048-9
  • Flexor Reflex Afferents
  • Pain Reflexes
  • Spinal Cord


Abstract Ipsi- and contralateral patterns of lower limb nociceptive reflex responses were studied in 6 normal subjects in free standing position. Once the position was stabilized, only ankle extensor muscles showed consistent tonic activity while ankle flexors and knee extensors and flexors were virtually silent. Reflex responses, elicited by painful electrical stimuli to the skin of the plantar and dorsal aspect of the foot, were recorded from ipsi- and contralateral quadriceps (Q), biceps femoris (Bic), tibialis anterior (TA) and soleus (Sol) muscles. Plantar foot stimulation evoked a large excitatory response in the ipsilateral TA at about 80 ms and a smaller responses in Bic and Q at 70 ms and 110 ms, respectively. Ipsilateral excitatory effects after dorsal foot stimulation consisted of a Bic response at about 75 ms. In addition to excitatory effects, both plantar and dorsal foot stimulation evoked long-lasting suppression of ipsilateral Sol background activity starting at about 60 ms. Contralaterally, the only nociceptive effects after plantar or dorsal foot stimulation were a small excitatory response of Sol at about 85 ms. Evidence is provided that only excitatory responses were contingent upon nociceptive volley. The main mechanical effects seen after plantar stimulation were dorsiflexion of the foot without loss of heel contact with the floor; no withdrawal response of the foot followed nociceptive dorsal stimulation. Our main conclusion is that only reflex nociceptive responses serving to avoid the stimulus without conflicting with limb support function are expressed. The mechanisms reconciling nociceptive action and postural function of the lower limbs are discussed.

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