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J Physiol. 1996 Oct 1;496 ( Pt 1):287-97.

In vivo human gastrocnemius architecture with changing joint angle at rest and during graded isometric contraction.

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Reparto di Fisiologia Istituto di Tecnologie Biomediche Avanzate, Consiglio Nazionale dell Ricerche, Milano, Italy.


1. Human gastrocnemius medialis architecture was analysed in vivo, by ultrasonography, as a function of joint angle at rest and during voluntary isometric contractions up to the maximum force (MCV). maximum force (MVC). 2. At rest, as ankle joint angle increased from 90 to 150 deg, pennation increased from 15.8 to 27.7 deg, fibre length decreased from 57.0 to 34.0 mm and the physiological cross-sectional area (PCSA) increased from 42.1 to 63.5 cm2. 3. From rest to MVC, at a fixed ankle joint angle of 110 deg, pennation angle increased from 15.5 to 33.6 deg and fibre length decreased from 50.8 to 32.9 mm, with no significant change in the distance between the aponeuroses. As a result of these changes the PCSA increased by 34.8%. 4. Measurements of pennation angle, fibre length and distance between the aponeuroses of the gastrocnemius medialis were also performed by ultrasound on a cadaver leg and found to be in good agreement with direct anatomical measurements. 5. It is concluded that human gastrocnemius medialis architecture is significantly affected both by changes of joint angle at rest and by isometric contraction intensity. The remarkable shortening observed during isometric contraction suggests that, at rest, the gastrocnemius muscle and tendon are considerably slack. The extrapolation of muscle architectural data obtained from cadavers to in vivo conditions should be made only for matching muscle lengths.

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