Electromuscular incapacitation results from stimulation of spinal reflexes

Florin Despa, Suki Basati, Zhen Du Zhang, John D'Andrea, J. Patrick Reilly, Elena N. Bodnar, Raphael C. Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Electronic stun devices (ESD) often used in law enforcement, military action or self defense can induce total body uncoordinated muscular activity, also known as electromuscular incapacitation (EMI). During EMI the subject is unable to perform purposeful or coordinated movements. The mechanism of EMI induction has not been reported, but has been generally thought to be direct muscle and nerve excitation from the fields generated by ESDs. To determine the neuromuscular mechanisms linking ESD to induction of EMI, we investigated EMI responses using an anesthetized pig model.We found that EMI responses to ESD application can best be simulated by simultaneous stimulation of motor and sensory peripheral nerves. We also found that application of local anesthetics limited the response ofESDto local muscle stimulation and abolished the total bodyEMI response. Stimulation of the pure sensory peripheral nerves or nerves that are primarily motor nerves induced muscle responses that are consistent with well defined spinal reflexes. These findings suggest that the mechanism of ESD-induced EMI is mediated by excitation of multiple simultaneous spinal reflexes. Although direct motor-neuron stimulation in the region of ESD contact may significantly add to motor reactions from ESD stimulation, multiple spinal reflexes appear to be a major, and probably the dominant mechanism in observed motor response.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)411-421
Number of pages11
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jul 2009


  • Electromuscular incapacitation
  • Electronic stun devices
  • Spinal reflexes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Physiology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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