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J Appl Physiol (1985). 2018 May 1;124(5):1333-1340. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00290.2017. Epub 2018 Feb 8.

Altered Achilles tendon function during walking in people with diabetic neuropathy: implications for metabolic energy saving.

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School of Healthcare Science, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Manchester Metropolitan University , Manchester , United Kingdom.
School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, Liverpool John Moores University , Liverpool , United Kingdom.
Department of Rehabilitation Sciences, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Leuven , Belgium.
Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences, University of Manchester , Manchester , United Kingdom.
Diabetes Research Institute, University of Miami , Miami, Florida.


The Achilles tendon (AT) has the capacity to store and release elastic energy during walking, contributing to metabolic energy savings. In diabetes patients, it is hypothesized that a stiffer Achilles tendon may reduce the capacity for energy saving through this mechanism, thereby contributing to an increased metabolic cost of walking (CoW). The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of diabetes and diabetic peripheral neuropathy (DPN) on the Achilles tendon and plantarflexor muscle-tendon unit behavior during walking. Twenty-three nondiabetic controls (Ctrl); 20 diabetic patients without peripheral neuropathy (DM), and 13 patients with moderate/severe DPN underwent gait analysis using a motion analysis system, force plates, and ultrasound measurements of the gastrocnemius muscle, using a muscle model to determine Achilles tendon and muscle-tendon length changes. During walking, the DM and particularly the DPN group displayed significantly less Achilles tendon elongation (Ctrl: 1.81; DM: 1.66; and DPN: 1.54 cm), higher tendon stiffness (Ctrl: 210; DM: 231; and DPN: 240 N/mm), and higher tendon hysteresis (Ctrl: 18; DM: 21; and DPN: 24%) compared with controls. The muscle fascicles of the gastrocnemius underwent very small length changes in all groups during walking (~0.43 cm), with the smallest length changes in the DPN group. Achilles tendon forces were significantly lower in the diabetes groups compared with controls (Ctrl: 2666; DM: 2609; and DPN: 2150 N). The results strongly point toward the reduced energy saving capacity of the Achilles tendon during walking in diabetes patients as an important factor contributing to the increased metabolic CoW in these patients. NEW & NOTEWORTHY From measurements taken during walking we observed that the Achilles tendon in people with diabetes and particularly people with diabetic peripheral neuropathy was stiffer, was less elongated, and was subject to lower forces compared with controls without diabetes. These altered properties of the Achilles tendon in people with diabetes reduce the tendon's energy saving capacity and contribute toward the higher metabolic energy cost of walking in these patients.


biomechanics; diabetes; elastic energy storage; lower limb; tendon stiffness

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