In situ studies involving supraphysiological muscle lengths and relative positions have shown that connective tissue linkages connecting adjacent muscles can transmit substantial forces, but the physiological significance is still subject to debate. The present study investigates effects of such epimuscular myofascial force transmission in the rat calf muscles. Unlike previous approaches, we quantified the mechanical interaction between the soleus (SO) and the lateral gastrocnemius and plantaris complex (LG+PL) applying a set of muscle lengths and relative positions corresponding to the range of knee and ankle angles occurring during normal movements. In nine deeply anesthetized Wistar rats, the superficial posterior crural compartment was exposed, and distal and proximal tendons of LG+PL and the distal SO tendon were severed and connected to force transducers. The target muscles were excited simultaneously. We found that SO active and passive tendon force was substantially affected by proximally lengthening of LG+PL mimicking knee extension (10% and 0.8% of maximal active SO force, respectively; P < 0.05). Moreover, SO relative position significantly changed the LG+PL length-force relationship, resulting in nonunique values for passive slack-length and optimum-length estimates. We conclude that also, for physiological muscle conditions, isometric force of rat triceps surae muscles is determined by its muscle-tendon unit length as well as by the length and relative position of its synergists. This has implications for understanding the neuromechanics of skeletal muscle in normal and pathological conditions, as well as for studies relying on the assumption that muscles act as independent force actuators.
Keywords: connective tissue; length-force characteristics; myofascial force transmission; passive slack length; soleus muscle.
Copyright © 2015 the American Physiological Society.