Background: The objective of this study was to investigate changes in active and passive biomechanical properties of the calf muscle-tendon unit induced by controlled ankle stretching in stroke survivors. Methods: Ten stroke survivors with ankle spasticity/contracture and ten healthy control subjects received intervention of 60-min ankle stretching. Joint biomechanical properties including resistance torque, stiffness and index of hysteresis were evaluated pre- and post-intervention. Achilles tendon length was measured using ultrasonography. The force output of the triceps surae muscles was characterized via the torque-angle relationship, by stimulating the calf muscles at a controlled intensity across different ankle positions. Findings: Compared to healthy controls, the ankle position corresponding to the peak torque of the stroke survivors was shifted towards plantar flexion (P < 0.001). Stroke survivors showed significantly higher resistance torques and joint stiffness (P < 0.05), and these higher resistances were reduced significantly after the stretching intervention, especially in dorsiflexion (P = 0.013). Stretching significantly improved the force output of the impaired calf muscles in stroke survivors under matched stimulations (P < 0.05). Ankle range of motion was also increased by stretching (P < 0.001). Interpretation: At the joint level, repeated stretching loosened the ankle joint with increased passive joint range of motion and decreased joint stiffness. At the muscle-tendon level, repeated stretching improved calf muscle force output, which might be associated with decreased muscle fascicle stiffness, increased fascicle length and shortening of the Achilles tendon. The study provided evidence of improvement in muscle tendon properties through stretching intervention.
- Muscle tendon
- Triceps surae muscles
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Orthopedics and Sports Medicine