Background: Reciprocal inhibition (RI) may be important for recovering locomotion after stroke. Patterned electrical stimulation (PES) can modulate RI in a manner that could be enhanced by voluntary muscle contraction (VC). Objective: To investigate whether VC enhances the PES-induced spinal RI in patients with stroke. Methods: Twelve patients with chronic stroke underwent three 20 min tasks, each on different days: (1) PES (10 pulses, 100 Hz every 2 s) applied to the common peroneal nerve; (2) VC consisting of isometric contraction of the affected-side tibialis anterior muscle; (3) PES combined with VC (PES + VC). RI from the tibialis anterior to the soleus muscle was assessed before, immediately after, and 10, 20, and 30 min after the task. Results: Compared to the baseline, PES + VC significantly increased the changes in reciprocal inhibition at immediately after and 10 min after the task. PES alone significantly increased this change immediately after the task, while VC alone showed no significant increase. Conclusion: VC enhanced the PES-induced plastic changes in RI in patients with stroke. This effect can potentially increase the success rate of newer neurorehabilitative approaches in achieving functional recovery after stroke.
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