Assessment of neuromuscular function using percutaneous electrical nerve stimulation
Percutaneous electrical nerve stimulation is a non-invasive method commonly used to evaluate neuromuscular function from brain to muscle (supra-spinal, spinal and peripheral levels). The present protocol describes how this method can be used to stimulate the posterior tibial nerve that activates plantar flexor muscles. Percutaneous electrical nerve stimulation consists of inducing an electrical stimulus to a motor nerve to evoke a muscular response. Direct (M-wave) and/or indirect (H-reflex) electrophysiological responses can be recorded at rest using surface electromyography. Mechanical (twitch torque) responses can be quantified with a force/torque ergometer. M-wave and twitch torque reflect neuromuscular transmission and excitation-contraction coupling, whereas H-reflex provides an index of spinal excitability. EMG activity and mechanical (superimposed twitch) responses can also be recorded during maximal voluntary contractions to evaluate voluntary activation level. Percutaneous nerve stimulation provides an assessment of neuromuscular function in humans, and is highly beneficial especially for studies evaluating neuromuscular plasticity following acute (fatigue) or chronic (training/detraining) exercise.