The integrated function of muscles and tendons during locomotion

Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol. 2002 Dec;133(4):1087-99. doi: 10.1016/s1095-6433(02)00244-1.


The mechanical roles of tendon and muscle contractile elements during locomotion are often considered independently, but functionally they are tightly integrated. Tendons can enhance muscle performance for a wide range of locomotor activities because muscle-tendon units shorten and lengthen at velocities that would be mechanically unfavorable for muscle fibers functioning alone. During activities that require little net mechanical power output, such as steady-speed running, tendons reduce muscular work by storing and recovering cyclic changes in the mechanical energy of the body. Tendon stretch and recoil not only reduces muscular work, but also allows muscle fibers to operate nearly isometrically, where, due to the force-velocity relation, skeletal muscle fibers develop high forces. Elastic energy storage and recovery in tendons may also provide a key mechanism to enable individual muscles to alter their mechanical function, from isometric force-producers during steady speed running to actively shortening power-producers during high-power activities like acceleration or uphill running. Evidence from studies of muscle contraction and limb dynamics in turkeys suggests that during running accelerations work is transferred directly from muscle to tendon as tendon stretch early in the step is powered by muscle shortening. The energy stored in the tendon is later released to help power the increase in energy of the body. These tendon length changes redistribute muscle power, enabling contractile elements to shorten at relatively constant velocities and power outputs, independent of the pattern of flexion/extension at a joint. Tendon elastic energy storage and recovery extends the functional range of muscles by uncoupling the pattern of muscle fiber shortening from the pattern of movement of the body.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Elasticity
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Humans
  • Locomotion / physiology*
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Running / physiology
  • Tendons / physiology*