Orselli MI, Franz JR, Thelen DG. The effect of Achilles tendon compliance on triceps surae mechanics and energetics in walking. Journal of Biomechanics (In press).
Abstract. Achilles tendon (AT) compliance can affect the generation and transmission of triceps surae muscle forces, and thus has important biomechanical consequences for walking performance. However, the uniarticular soleus (SOL) and the biarticular (GAS) function differently during walking, with in vivo evidence suggesting that their associated fascicles and tendinous structures exhibit unique kinematics during walking. Given the strong association between muscle fiber length, velocity and force production, we conjectured that SOL and GAS mechanics and energetic behavior would respond differently to altered AT compliance. To test this, we characterized GAS and SOL muscle and tendon mechanics and energetics due to systematic changes in tendon compliance using musculoskeletal simulations of walking. Increased tendon compliance enlarged GAS and SOL tendon excursions, shortened fiber operation lengths and affected muscle excitation patterns. For both muscles, an optimal tendon compliance (tendon strains of approximately 5% with maximum isometric force) existed that minimized metabolic energy consumption. However, GAS muscle-tendon mechanics and energetics were significantly more sensitive to changes in tendon compliance than were those for SOL. In addition, GAS was not able to return stored tendon energy during push-off as effectively as SOL, particularly for larger values of tendon compliance. These fundamental differences between GAS and SOL sensitivity to altered tendon compliance seem to arise from the biarticular nature of GAS. These insights are potentially important for understanding the functional consequences of altered Achilles tendon compliance due to aging, injury, or disease.