In vivo passive mechanical behaviour of muscle fascicles and tendons in human gastrocnemius muscle-tendon units

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Journal of Physiology, 2011, 589 (21), pp. 5257 - 5267
Issue Date:
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Ultrasound imaging was used to measure the length of muscle fascicles in human gastrocnemius muscles while the muscle was passively lengthened and shortened by moving the ankle. In some subjects the muscle belly 'buckled' at short lengths. When the gastrocnemius muscle-tendon unit was passively lengthened from its shortest in vivo length by dorsiflexing the ankle, increases in muscle-tendon length were not initially accompanied by increases in muscle fascicle lengths (fascicle length remained constant), indicating muscle fascicles were slack at short muscle-tendon lengths. The muscle-tendon length at which slack is taken up differs among fascicles: some fascicles begin to lengthen at very short muscle-tendon lengths whereas other fascicles remain slack over a large range of muscle-tendon lengths. This suggests muscle fascicles are progressively 'recruited' and contribute sequentially to muscle-tendon stiffness during passive lengthening of the muscle-tendon unit. Even above their slack lengths muscle fascicles contribute only a small part (<∼30%) of the total change in muscle-tendon length. The contribution of muscle fascicles to muscle-tendon length increases with muscle length. The novelty of this work is that it reveals a previously unrecognised phenomenon (buckling at short lengths), posits a new mechanism of passive mechanical properties of muscle (recruitment of muscle fascicles), and confirms with high-resolution measurements that the passive compliance of human gastrocnemius muscle-tendon units is due largely to the tendon. It would be interesting to investigate if adaptations of passive properties of muscles are associated with changes in the distribution of muscle lengths at which fascicles fall slack. © 2011 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2011 The Physiological Society.
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