Age-related differences in Achilles tendon properties and triceps surae muscle architecture in vivo

J Appl Physiol (1985). 2012 Nov;113(10):1537-44. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00782.2012. Epub 2012 Oct 4.


This study examined the concurrent age-related differences in muscle and tendon structure and properties. Achilles tendon morphology and mechanical properties and triceps surae muscle architecture were measured from 100 subjects [33 young (24 ± 2 yr) and 67 old (75 ± 3 yr)]. Motion analysis-assisted ultrasonography was used to determine tendon stiffness, Young's modulus, and hysteresis during isometric ramp contractions. Ultrasonography was used to measure muscle architectural features and size and tendon cross-sectional area. Older participants had 17% lower (P < 0.01) Achilles tendon stiffness and 32% lower (P < 0.001) Young's modulus than young participants. Tendon cross-sectional area was also 16% larger (P < 0.001) in older participants. Triceps surae muscle size was smaller (P < 0.05) and gastrocnemius medialis muscle fascicle length shorter (P < 0.05) in old compared with young. Maximal plantarflexion force was associated with tendon stiffness and Young's modulus (r = 0.580, P < 0.001 and r = 0.561, P < 0.001, respectively). Comparison between old and young subjects with similar strengths did not reveal a difference in tendon stiffness. The results suggest that regardless of age, Achilles tendon mechanical properties adapt to match the level of muscle performance. Old people may compensate for lower tendon material properties by increasing tendon cross-sectional area. Lower tendon stiffness in older subjects might be beneficial for movement economy in low-intensity locomotion and thus optimized for their daily activities.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Achilles Tendon / diagnostic imaging
  • Achilles Tendon / pathology*
  • Achilles Tendon / physiopathology
  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aging / pathology*
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Elastic Modulus
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Locomotion
  • Male
  • Muscle Contraction
  • Muscle Strength
  • Muscle Strength Dynamometer
  • Muscle, Skeletal / diagnostic imaging
  • Muscle, Skeletal / pathology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology
  • Ultrasonography
  • Video Recording
  • Young Adult