Purpose: Mechanical interactions between muscles have been shown for in situ conditions. In vivo data for humans is unavailable. Global and local length changes of calf muscles were studied to test the hypothesis that local strains may occur also within muscle for which global strain equals zero.
Methods: For determination of globally induced strain in m. gastrocnemius in dissected human cadavers several knee joint angles were imposed, while keeping ankle joint angle constant and measuring its muscle-tendon complex length changes. In vivo local strains in both gastrocnemius and soleus muscles were calculated using MRI techniques in healthy human volunteers comparing images taken at static knee angles of 173° and 150°.
Results: Imposed global strains on gastrocnemius were much smaller than local strains. High distributions of strains were encountered, e.g. overall lengthened muscle contains locally lengthened, as well as shortened areas within it. Substantial strains were not limited to gastrocnemius, but were found also in synergistic soleus muscle, despite the latter muscle-tendon complex length remaining isometric (constant ankle angle: i.e. global strain = 0), as it does not cross the knee. Based on results of animal experiments this effect is ascribed to myofascial connections between these synergistic muscles. The most likely pathway is the neurovascular tract within the anterior crural compartment (i.e. the collagen reinforcements of blood vessels, lymphatics and nerves). However, direct intermuscular transmission of force may also occur via the perimysium shared between the two muscles.
Conclusions: Global strains imposed on muscle (joint movement) are not good estimators of in vivo local strains within it: differing in magnitude, as well as direction of length change. Substantial mechanical interaction occurs between calf muscles, which is mediated by myofascial force transmission between these synergistic muscles. This confirms conclusions of previous in situ studies in experimental animals and human patients, for in vivo conditions in healthy human subjects.