Background: Myofascial force transmission occurs between muscles (intermuscular myofascial force transmission) and from muscles to surrounding nonmuscular structures such as neurovascular tracts and bone (extramuscular myofascial force transmission). The purpose was to investigate the mechanical role of the epimuscular connections (the integral system of inter- and extramuscular connections) as well as the isolated role of extramuscular connections on myofascial force transmission and to test the hypothesis, if such connections are prestrained.
Method of approach: Length-force characteristics of extensor hallucis longus (EHL) muscle of the rat were measured in two conditions: (I) with the neighboring EDL muscle and epimuscular connections of the muscles intact: EDL was kept at a constant muscle tendon complex length. (II) After removing EDL, leaving EHL with intact extramuscular connections exclusively.
Results: (I) Epimuscular connections of the tested muscles proved to be prestrained significantly. (1) Passive EHL force was nonzero for all isometric EHL lengths including very low lengths, increasing with length to approximately 13% of optimum force at high length. (2) Significant proximodistal EDL force differences were found at all EHL lengths: Initially, proximal EDL force = 1.18 +/- 0.11 N, where as distal EDL force = 1.50 +/- 0.08 N (mean +/- SE). EHL lengthening decreased the proximo-distal EDL force difference significantly (by 18.4%) but the dominance of EDL distal force remained. This shows that EHL lengthening reduces the prestrain on epimuscular connections via intermuscular connections; however; the prestrain on the extramuscular connections of EDL remains effective. (II) Removing EDL muscle affected EHL forces significantly. (1) Passive EHL forces decreased at all muscle lengths by approximately 17%. However, EHL passive force was still non-zero for the entire isometric EHL length range, indicating pre-strain of extramuscular connections of EHL. This indicates that a substantial part of the effects originates solely from the extramuscular connections of EHL. However, a role for intermuscular connections between EHL and EDL, when present, cannot be excluded. (2) Total EHL forces included significant shape changes in the length-force curve (e.g., optimal EHL force decreased significantly by 6%) showing that due to myofascial force transmission muscle length-force characteristics are not specific properties of individual muscles.
Conclusions: The pre-strain in the epimuscular connections of EDL and EHL indicate that these myofascial pathways are sufficiently stiff to transmit force even after small changes in relative position of a muscle with respect to its neighboring muscular and nonmuscular tissues. This suggests the likelihood of such effects also in vivo.