The shortening reaction of forearm muscles: The influence of central set

Giacinta Miscio, Fabrizio Pisano, Carmen Del Conte, Danilo Pianca, Roberto Colombo, Marco Schieppati

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: The EMG of the forearm muscles shortened by an imposed wrist joint displacement has been studied at different levels and distribution of background muscle activity and with different instructions to the subjects, in order to test the hypothesis that the recorded EMG response (shortening reaction, ShoRe) could be deliberate in origin. Methods: Ten normal subjects were examined. A torque motor induced 50° wrist extension or flexion at 500°/s. The subjects were relaxed or exerted a 10% maximal voluntary contraction. They were instructed either not to intervene, or to oppose the displacement, or else to assist it. Several trials were repeated at different initial angles. Results: We found a short-latency reflex (SR) in the stretched muscle, be it flexor or extensor, and a later inconstant ShoRe in the antagonist. ShoRe latency was compatible with that of a reaction time (RT), and was not influenced by the initial wrist angle. When subjects assisted the movement, the EMG burst in the shortening muscle was in every respect a RT; when they opposed the movement, the ShoRe disappeared. There was a strict temporal relationship between SR duration and ShoRe latency. Conclusions: We suggest that the brain would deliberately trigger the ShoRe on recognizing the displacement direction. The occurrence of such activity in the shortened muscle makes the SR to abruptly stop. The temporal relationship between the duration of the SR and onset of the ShoRe can be an expression of the inhibition on the SR burst by the cortical drive to the antagonist muscle being shortened, possibly through the action of spinal inhibitory interneurones. The ShoRe would complete the movement momentarily braked by the SR and redistribute the muscle tone across antagonists, appropriate for the new muscle length.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)884-894
Number of pages11
JournalClinical Neurophysiology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2001


  • Electromyography
  • Reaction time
  • Reciprocal inhibition
  • Shortening reaction
  • Stretch reflex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Neurology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Physiology (medical)


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