Association between medial gastrocnemius muscle-tendon unit architecture and ankle dorsiflexion range of motion with and without consideration of slack angle

PLoS One. 2021 Mar 5;16(3):e0248125. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0248125. eCollection 2021.


Joint flexibility is theoretically considered to associate with muscle-tendon unit (MTU) architecture. However, this potential association has not been experimentally demonstrated in humans in vivo. We aimed to identify whether and how MTU architectural parameters are associated with joint range of motion (RoM), with a special emphasis on slack angle. The fascicle length, pennation angle, tendinous tissue length, MTU length, and shear modulus of the medial gastrocnemius (MG) were assessed during passive ankle dorsiflexion using ultrasound shear wave elastography in 17 healthy males. During passive dorsiflexion task, the ankle joint was rotated from 40° plantar flexion to the maximal dorsiflexion joint angle at which each subject started experiencing pain. From the ankle joint angle-shear modulus relationship, the angle at which shear modulus began to rise (slack angle) was calculated. Two dorsiflexion RoMs were determined as follows; 1) range from the anatomical position to maximal angle (RoManat-max) and 2) range from the MG slack angle to maximal angle (RoMslack-max). The MTU architectural parameters were analyzed at the anatomical position and MG slack angle. The resolved fascicle length (fascicle length × cosine of pennation angle) and ratios of resolved fascicle or tendinous tissue length to MTU length measured at the MG slack angle significantly correlated with the RoMslack-max (r = 0.491, 0.506, and -0.506, respectively). Any MTU architectural parameters assessed at the anatomical position did not correlate with RoManat-max or RoMslack-max. These results indicate that MTUs with long fascicle and short tendinous tissue are advantageous for joint flexibility. However, this association cannot be found unless MTU architecture and joint RoM are assessed with consideration of muscle slack.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Ankle Joint* / diagnostic imaging
  • Ankle Joint* / physiology
  • Elasticity Imaging Techniques*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Muscle, Skeletal* / diagnostic imaging
  • Muscle, Skeletal* / physiology
  • Range of Motion, Articular
  • Tendons* / diagnostic imaging
  • Tendons* / physiology

Grant support

This work was supported by Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) KAKENHI Grant number JP19H04005 (to NM). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.