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Eur J Appl Physiol. 2005 Oct;95(2-3):131-9. Epub 2005 Jul 20.

Viscoelastic properties of short calf muscle-tendon units of older women: effects of slow and fast passive dorsiflexion stretches in vivo.

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The Physical Therapy Department, Clinical Kinesiology Laboratory, The University of Montana, Missoula, 59812-4680, USA.


Changes in connective tissues of the skeletal muscle-tendon unit (MTU) of aging animal muscles have been associated with increased passive viscoelastic properties. This study examined whether similar changes in the viscoelastic properties were present in short calf MTUs of older women in vivo. Fifteen women 68-87 years of age with short calf MTUs, as represented by limited active dorsiflexion (DF) range of motion (ROM) of < or =5 degrees, and 15 women 20-26 years of age without decreased DF ROM participated. A Kin-Com dynamometer stretched the MTU from plantarflexion to maximal DF at the slow velocity of 5 degrees s(-1) (0.087 rad s(-1)) and the fast velocity of 120 degrees s(-1) (2.094 rad s(-1)) with minimal surface electromyogram activity in the soleus, gastrocnemius, and tibialis anterior muscles. Two-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) tests for repeated measures (Velocity x Group) indicated that all women showed greater passive torque, average passive elastic stiffness, and total absorbed passive elastic energy for the fast stretch than for the slow stretch (P < 0.001). The older women had greater percent increases for the average passive torque (30%) and total absorbed passive elastic energy (26%) for the fast stretch than the younger women (P < 0.05), who had 17.5 and 13% increases, respectively. The older women had less maximal and average passive torque (Nm) and total absorbed passive elastic energy (degrees Nm), but greater average passive elastic stiffness (Nm degrees (-1)) at both stretch velocities (P < 0.001). The results indicated that short calf MTUs of older women have increased passive viscoelastic properties that could have implications for balance and ambulatory function.

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