The aim of the present study was to investigate the neurophysiological triggers underlying muscle relaxation from the contracted state, and to examine the mechanisms involved in this process and their subsequent modification by neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES). Single-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) was used to produce motor-evoked potentials (MEPs) and short-interval intracortical inhibition (SICI) in 23 healthy participants, wherein motor cortex excitability was examined at the onset of voluntary muscle relaxation following a period of voluntary tonic muscle contraction. In addition, the effects of afferent input on motor cortex excitability, as produced by NMES during muscle contraction, were examined. In particular, two NMES intensities were used for analysis: 1.2 times the sensory threshold and 1.2 times the motor threshold (MT). Participants were directed to execute constant wrist extensions and to release muscle contraction in response to an auditory “GO” signal. MEPs were recorded from the flexor carpi radialis (FCR) and extensor carpi radialis (ECR) muscles, and TMS was applied at three different time intervals (30, 60, and 90 ms) after the “GO” signal. Motor cortex excitability was greater during voluntary ECR and FCR relaxation using high-intensity NMES, and relaxation time was decreased. Each parameter differed significantly between 30 and 60 ms. Moreover, in both muscles, SICI was larger in the presence than in the absence of NMES. Therefore, the present findings suggest that terminating a muscle contraction triggers transient neurophysiological mechanisms that facilitate the NMES-induced modulation of cortical motor excitability in the period prior to muscle relaxation. High-intensity NMES might facilitate motor cortical excitability as a function of increased inhibitory intracortical activity, and therefore serve as a transient trigger for the relaxation of prime mover muscles in a therapeutic context.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Sensory Systems