We examined the influence of stretching alone (SS) or combined with self-massage (SM) on maximal ankle dorsiflexion angle, maximal voluntary contraction (MVC) torque and calf muscle activity, and subcutaneous tissue thickness in 15 young (25 ± 3 years) and 15 middle-aged (45 ± 5 years) adults. Participants performed two sessions of calf muscle stretches (3x 30-s stretches, 30-s rest): stretch after a 60-s control condition (SS) and stretch after 60 s of self-massage with therapy balls (SM). Evaluations were performed before and 5 min after the intervention. Linear mixed effects model revealed no main effect for age on ROM or MVC and significant main effects for treatment and time. Change in ankle angle was greater after SM: SS = 3.1 ± 2°, SM = 6.2 ± 3.3° (Hedges' g = 0.98, p < 0.001). Similar results were observed for MVC torque: SS = -4 ± 16%, SM = 12 ± 16% (Hedges' g = 0.97, p = 0.0001). Changes in MVC torque and absolute EMG amplitude were correlated, but subcutaneous tissue thickness was not altered by treatment. The gains in ROM were more pronounced in less flexible middle-aged adults, underscoring the need to include flexibility exercises in their training.
Keywords: Plantar flexors; high-density electromyography; muscle force; therapy balls.