The motor disorders associated with human spasticity arise, partly from a pathological increase in the excitability of muscle stretch reflexes. In clinical practice, reflex excitability is commonly assessed by grading the reflex response to a blow delivered to the tendon of a muscle. This is a much simpler response than the complex patterns of activity which may be elicited following muscle stretch caused by active or passive movement. Changes in the biceps brachii tendon jerk response have been followed over the first year after stroke in a group of hemiparetic patients and compared with changes in short and medium latency reflex responses elicited by imposed elbow flexion of initially relaxed spastic muscle and with the development of the late reflex responses which contribute to spastic hypertonia. A progressive increase in tendon jerk responses occurred over the first year following stroke, whereas reflex responses to imposed displacement, in particular the late reflex responses contributing to muscle hypertonia, reached their peak excitability one to three months after stroke, with a subsequent reduction in activity. The tendon jerk reflex therefore provides an incomplete picture of the pathological changes in the reflex responses in spasticity.
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