The result of an exciting new collaboration with Vanderbilt University, our most recent paper advances our fundamental understand of the accuracy, precision, drawbacks, and assumptions of our measurement techniques to interpret the functional role of muscle-tendon dynamics during movement.
Zelik KE and Franz JR. It’s positive to be negative: Achilles tendon work loops during human locomotion. PLoS One (In press).
Abstract. Ultrasound imaging is increasingly used with motion and force data to quantify tendon dynamics during human movement. Frequently, tendon dynamics are estimated indirectly from muscle fascicle kinematics (by subtracting muscle from muscle-tendon unit length), but there is mounting evidence that this Indirect approach yields implausible tendon work loops. Since tendons are passive viscoelastic structures, when they undergo a loading-unloading cycle they must exhibit a negative work loop (i.e., perform net negative work). However, prior studies using this Indirect approach report large positive work loops, often estimating that tendons return 2-5 J of elastic energy for every 1 J of energy stored. More direct ultrasound estimates of tendon kinematics have emerged that quantify tendon elongations by tracking either the muscle-tendon junction or localized tendon tissue. However, it is unclear if these yield more plausible estimates of tendon dynamics. Our objective was to compute tendon work loops and hysteresis losses using these two Direct tendon kinematics estimates during human walking. We found that Direct estimates generally resulted in negative work loops, with average tendon hysteresis losses of 2-11% at 1.25 m/s and 33-49% at 0.75 m/s (N=8), alluding to 0.51-0.98 J of tendon energy returned for every 1 J stored. We interpret this finding to suggest that Direct approaches provide more plausible estimates than the Indirect approach, and may be preferable for understanding tendon energy storage and return. However, the Direct approaches did exhibit speed-dependent trends that are not consistent with isolated, in vitro tendon hysteresis losses of about 5-10%. These trends suggest that Direct estimates also contain some level of error, albeit much smaller than Indirect estimates. Overall, this study serves to highlight the complexity and difficulty of estimating tendon dynamics non-invasively, and the care that must be taken to interpret biological function from current ultrasound-based estimates.