History-dependence of muscle slack length following contraction and stretch in the human vastus lateralis
- Publication Type:
- Journal Article
- Journal of Physiology, 2018, 596 (11), pp. 2121 - 2129
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© 2018 The Authors. The Journal of Physiology © 2018 The Physiological Society Key points: In reduced muscle preparations, the slack length and passive stiffness of muscle fibres have been shown to be influenced by previous muscle contraction or stretch. In human muscles, such behaviours have been inferred from measures of muscle force, joint stiffness and reflex magnitudes and latencies. Using ultrasound imaging, we directly observed that isometric contraction of the vastus lateralis muscle at short lengths reduces the slack lengths of the muscle–tendon unit and muscle fascicles. The effect is apparent 60 s after the contraction. These observations imply that muscle contraction at short lengths causes the formation of bonds which reduce the effective length of structures that generate passive tension in muscles. Abstract: In reduced muscle preparations, stretch and muscle contraction change the properties of relaxed muscle fibres. In humans, effects of stretch and contraction on properties of relaxed muscles have been inferred from measurements of time taken to develop force, joint stiffness and reflex latencies. The current study used ultrasound imaging to directly observe the effects of stretch and contraction on muscle–tendon slack length and fascicle slack length of the human vastus lateralis muscle in vivo. The muscle was conditioned by (a) strong isometric contractions at long muscle–tendon lengths, (b) strong isometric contractions at short muscle–tendon lengths, (c) weak isometric contractions at long muscle–tendon lengths and (d) slow stretches. One minute after conditioning, ultrasound images were acquired from the relaxed muscle as it was slowly lengthened through its physiological range. The ultrasound image sequences were used to identify muscle–tendon slack angles and fascicle slack lengths. Contraction at short muscle–tendon lengths caused a mean 13.5 degree (95% CI 11.8–15.0 degree) shift in the muscle–tendon slack angle towards shorter muscle–tendon lengths, and a mean 5 mm (95% CI 2–8 mm) reduction in fascicle slack length, compared to the other conditions. A supplementary experiment showed the effect could be demonstrated if the muscle was conditioned by contraction at short lengths but not if the relaxed muscle was held at short lengths, confirming the role of muscle contraction. These observations imply that muscle contraction at short lengths causes the formation of bonds which reduce the effective length of structures that generate passive tension in muscles.
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