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Front Physiol. 2017 Jun 16;8:417. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2017.00417. eCollection 2017.

Muscle and Tendon Adaptation in Adolescence: Elite Volleyball Athletes Compared to Untrained Boys and Girls.

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Department of Training and Movement Sciences, Humboldt-Universität zu BerlinBerlin, Germany.
Berlin School of Movement ScienceBerlin, Germany.


Though the plasticity of human tendons is well explored in adults, it is still unknown how superimposed mechanical loading by means of athletic training affects the properties of tendons during maturation. Due to the increased responsiveness of muscle to mechanical loading, adolescence is an important phase to investigate the effects of training on the mechanical properties of tendons. Hence, in the present study we compared vastus lateralis (VL) architecture, muscle strength of the knee extensor muscles and patellar tendon mechanical properties of male and female adolescent elite athletes to untrained boys and girls. Twenty-one adolescent volleyball athletes (A; 16.7 ± 1 years; 12 boys, 9 girls) and 24 similar-aged controls (C; 16.7 ± 1 years; 12 boys and girls, respectively) performed maximum isometric contractions on a dynamometer for the assessment of muscle strength and, by integrating ultrasound imaging, patellar tendon mechanical properties. Respective joint moments were calculated using an inverse dynamics approach and an electromyography-based estimation of antagonistic contribution. Additionally, the VL pennation angle, fascicle length and muscle-thickness were determined in the inactive state by means of ultrasound. Adolescent athletes produced significantly greater knee extension moments (normalized to body mass) compared to controls (A: 4.23 ± 0.80 Nm/kg, C: 3.57 ± 0.67 Nm/kg; p = 0.004), and showed greater VL thickness and pennation angle (+38% and +27%; p < 0.001). Tendon stiffness (normalized to rest length) was also significantly higher in athletes (A: 86.0 ± 27.1 kN/strain, C: 70.2 ± 18.8 kN/strain; p = 0.04), yet less pronounced compared to tendon force (A: 5785 ± 1146 N, C: 4335 ± 1015 N; p < 0.001), which resulted in higher levels of tendon strain during maximum contractions in athletes (A: 8.0 ± 1.9%, C: 6.4 ± 1.8%; p = 0.008). We conclude that athletic volleyball training provides a more efficient stimulus for muscle compared to tendon adaptation, which results in an increased demand placed upon the tendon by the working muscle in adolescent volleyball athletes. Besides implications for sport performance, these findings might have important consequences for the risk of tendon overuse injury.


adaptation; adolescence; athletes; imbalance; muscle; tendinopathy; tendon

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