Muscle Power Attenuation by Tendon During Energy Dissipation

Proc Biol Sci. 2012 Mar 22;279(1731):1108-13. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2011.1435. Epub 2011 Sep 28.


An important function of skeletal muscle is deceleration via active muscle fascicle lengthening, which dissipates movement energy. The mechanical interplay between muscle contraction and tendon elasticity is critical when muscles produce energy. However, the role of tendon elasticity during muscular energy dissipation remains unknown. We tested the hypothesis that tendon elasticity functions as a mechanical buffer, preventing high (and probably damaging) velocities and powers during active muscle fascicle lengthening. We directly measured lateral gastrocnemius muscle force and length in wild turkeys during controlled landings requiring rapid energy dissipation. Muscle-tendon unit (MTU) strain was measured via video kinematics, independent of muscle fascicle strain (measured via sonomicrometry). We found that rapid MTU lengthening immediately following impact involved little or no muscle fascicle lengthening. Therefore, joint flexion had to be accommodated by tendon stretch. After the early contact period, muscle fascicles lengthened and absorbed energy. This late lengthening occurred after most of the joint flexion, and was thus mainly driven by tendon recoil. Temporary tendon energy storage led to a significant reduction in muscle fascicle lengthening velocity and the rate of energy absorption. We conclude that tendons function as power attenuators that probably protect muscles against damage from rapid and forceful lengthening during energy dissipation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Deceleration
  • Muscle Contraction
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Tendons / physiology*
  • Turkeys / physiology*