The in vivo strain properties of human skeletal muscle-tendon complexes are poorly understood, particularly following chronic periods of reduced load bearing. We studied eight healthy volunteers who underwent 4 wk of unilateral lower limb suspension (ULLS) to induce chronic unloading. Before and after the ULLS, maximum isometric ankle plantar flexion torque was determined by using a magnetic resonance (MR)-compatible dynamometry. Volumes of the triceps surae muscles and strain distribution of the soleus aponeurosis and the Achilles tendon at a constant submaximal plantar flexion (20% premaximal voluntary contraction) were measured by using MRI and velocity-encoded, phase-contrast MRI techniques. Following ULLS, volumes of the soleus and the medial gastrocnemius and the maximum isometric ankle plantar flexion (maximum voluntary contraction) decreased by 5.5 ± 1.9, 7.5 ± 2.7, and 48.1 ± 6.1%, respectively. The strain of the aponeurosis along the length of the muscle before the ULLS was 0.3 ± 0.3%, ranging from -1.5 to 2.7% in different locations of the aponeurosis. Following ULLS, the mean strain was -6.4 ± 0.3%, ranging from -1.6 to 1.3%. The strain distribution of the midregion of the aponeurosis was significantly influenced by the ULLS, whereas the more distal component showed no consistent changes. Achilles tendon strain was not affected by the ULLS. These results raise the issue as to whether these changes in strain distribution affect the functional properties of the triceps surae and whether the probability of strain injuries within the triceps surae increases following chronic unloading in those regions of this muscle complex in which unusual strains occur.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Physiology (medical)