Indirect Vibration of the Upper Limbs Alters Transmission Along Spinal but Not Corticospinal Pathways
The use of upper limb vibration (ULV) during exercise and rehabilitation continues to gain popularity as a modality to improve function and performance. Currently, a lack of knowledge of the pathways being altered during ULV limits its effective implementation. Therefore, the aim of this study was to investigate whether indirect ULV modulates transmission along spinal and corticospinal pathways that control the human forearm. All measures were assessed under CONTROL (no vibration) and ULV (30 Hz; 0.4 mm displacement) conditions while participants maintained a small contraction of the right flexor carpi radialis (FCR) muscle. To assess spinal pathways, Hoffmann reflexes (H-reflexes) elicited by stimulation of the median nerve were recorded from FCR with motor response (M-wave) amplitudes matched between conditions. An H-reflex conditioning paradigm was also used to assess changes in presynaptic inhibition by stimulating the superficial radial (SR) nerve (5 pulses at 300Hz) 37 ms prior to median nerve stimulation. Cutaneous reflexes in FCR elicited by stimulation of the SR nerve at the wrist were also recorded. To assess corticospinal pathways, motor evoked potentials (MEPs) elicited by transcranial magnetic stimulation of the contralateral motor cortex were recorded from the right FCR and biceps brachii (BB). ULV significantly reduced H-reflex amplitude by 15.7% for both conditioned and unconditioned reflexes (24.0 ± 15.7 vs. 18.4 ± 11.2% Mmax; p < 0.05). Middle latency cutaneous reflexes were also significantly reduced by 20.0% from CONTROL (−1.50 ± 2.1% Mmax) to ULV (−1.73 ± 2.2% Mmax; p < 0.05). There was no significant effect of ULV on MEP amplitude (p > 0.05). Therefore, ULV inhibits cutaneous and H-reflex transmission without influencing corticospinal excitability of the forearm flexors suggesting increased presynaptic inhibition of afferent transmission as a likely mechanism. A general increase in inhibition of spinal pathways with ULV may have important implications for improving rehabilitation for individuals with spasticity (SCI, stroke, MS, etc.).