Key points Regionalization of the stretch reflex, i.e. the notion that the activation of 1a afferents from a muscle region influences only the activation of motor units in the same region, has been demonstrated previously in animals but not in humans. Mechanical stretches applied to regions of vastus medialis as close as 10 mm apart resulted in recruitment of motor units localized topographically with respect to the location of the mechanical stretch. Stretch reflexes are regionalized in the human vastus medialis. The human spinal cord has the neuromuscular circuitry to preferentially activate motoneurones innervating muscle fibres located in different regions of the vastus medialis. Abstract The localization of motor unit territories provides an anatomical basis to suggest that the CNS may have more independence in motor unit recruitment and control strategies than what was previously thought. In this study, we investigated whether the human spinal cord has the neuromuscular circuitry to independently activate motor units located in different regions of the vastus medialis. Mechanical taps were applied to multiple locations in the vastus medialis (VM) in nine healthy individuals. Regional responses within the muscle were observed using a grid of 5 × 13 surface EMG electrodes. The EMG amplitude was quantified for each channel, and a cluster of channels showing the largest activation was identified. The spatial location of the EMG response was quantified as the position of the channels in the cluster. In a subset of three participants, intramuscular recordings were performed simultaneously with the surface EMG recordings. Mechanical taps resulted in localized, discrete responses for each participant. The spatial location of the elicited responses was dependent on the location of the tap (P < 0.001). Recordings with intramuscular electrodes confirmed the regional activation of the VM for different tap locations. Selective stimulation of 1a afferents localized in a region of the VM results in reflex recruitment of motor units in the same region. These findings suggest that the human spinal cord has the neuromuscular circuitry to modulate spatially the motoneuronal output to vastus medialis regions, which is a neuroanatomical prerequisite for regional activation.