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Keywords:

  • electrical stimulation;
  • M-wave;
  • motor unit;
  • recruitment;
  • size principle

ABSTRACT

Introduction: Neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) over a muscle belly (mNMES) generates contractions predominantly through M-waves, while NMES over a nerve trunk (nNMES) can generate contractions through H-reflexes in people who are neurologically intact. We tested whether the differences between mNMES and nNMES are present in people with chronic motor-complete spinal cord injury and, if so, whether they influence contraction fatigue. Methods: Plantar-flexion torque and soleus electromyography were recorded from 8 participants. Fatigue protocols were delivered using mNMES and nNMES on separate days. Results: nNMES generated contractions that fatigued less than mNMES. Torque decreased the least when nNMES generated contractions, at least partly through H-reflexes (n = 4 participants; 39% decrease), and torque decreased the most when contractions were generated through M-waves, regardless of NMES site (nNMES 71% decrease, n = 4; mNMES, 73% decrease, n = 8). Conclusions: nNMES generates contractions that fatigue less than mNMES, but only when H-reflexes contribute to the evoked contractions. Muscle Nerve 50:224–234, 2014