Purpose: The purpose of this experiment was to evaluate the effects of both muscle length and moment arm (MA) on the electromyographic (EMG) and force output of the triceps surae (TS) muscle.
Relevance: It is well recognized that changes in muscle length affect both the muscle's force generating capacity as well as its twitch speed. This relationship is well established in animal preparations. Contrary to animal experiments where length can be directly manipulated in isolated muscles, human experiments require that all muscle length changes be secondary to changes in a joint angle. Such experimental manipulations therefore produce changes in not only muscle length, but also in the muscle's MA. The relative effect of muscle length and MA changes on muscle EMG has not been determined in previous experiments.
Methods: This study was executed in two phases. First, using fresh human cadaver lower limbs, data were gathered describing the relationship between knee and ankle angle changes for maintenance of a constant TS muscle length, while its MA at the ankle joint has been changed. In the second phase of the study, results obtained from phase one were applied to 10 healthy adult human subjects to measure the EMG (surface and fine wire) activity of TS at three different conditions: when both length and MA were shortened, when muscle length was decreased given a constant MA and when MA was shortened given a constant muscle length.
Results: A significant increase in muscle activity was found as both the length and MA of TS muscle were shortened. A similar pattern of increased muscle activity was observed when the MA was shortened given a constant muscle length. No significant change in TS activity was found when muscle length was shortened, given a constant MA at the ankle joint.
Conclusions: The findings of this study indicate that changes in the Achilles tendon MA predominate over the muscle length variations in determining the level of TS activity when generating plantar flexion torque.