Rasske K and Franz JR. Aging effects on the Achilles tendon moment arm during walking. Journal of Biomechanics (In press).
Abstract. The Achilles tendon (AT) moment arm transforms triceps surae muscle forces into a moment about the ankle which is critical for functional activities like walking. Moreover, the AT moment arm changes continuously during walking, as it depends on both ankle joint rotation and triceps surae muscle loading (presumably due to bulging of the muscle belly). Here, we posit that aging negatively effects the architecturally complex AT moment arm during walking, which thereby contributes to well-documented reductions in ankle moment generation during push-off. We used motion capture-guided ultrasound imaging to quantify instantaneous variations in the AT moment arms of young (23.9±4.3 years) and older (69.9±2.6 years) adults during walking, their dependence on triceps surae muscle loading, and their association with ankle moment generation during push-off. Older adults walked with 11% smaller AT moment arms and 11% smaller peak ankle moments during push-off than young adults. Moreover, as hypothesized, these unfavourable changes were significantly and positively correlated (r2=0.38, p<0.01). More surprisingly, aging attenuated load-dependent increases in AT moment arm (i.e., that between heel-strike and push-off at the same ankle angle); only young adults exhibited a significant increase in their AT moment arm due to triceps surae muscle-loading. Age-associated reductions in triceps surae volume or activation, and thus muscle bulging during force generation, may compromise the mechanical advantage of the AT during the critical push-off phase of walking in older adults. Thus, strategies to restore and/or improve locomotor performance in our aging population should consider these functionally important changes in musculoskeletal behavior.