The aims of this study were to investigate changes 1) in the coordination of activation of the triceps surae muscle group, and 2) in muscle belly length of soleus (SO) and lateral gastrocnemius (LG) during locomotion (trotting) in response to increased stiffness of intermuscular connective tissues in the rat. We measured muscle activation and muscle belly lengths, as well as hindlimb kinematics, before and after an artificial enhancement of the connectivity between SO and LG muscles obtained by implanting a tissue-integrating surgical mesh at the muscles’ interface. We found that SO muscle activation decreased to 62%, while activation of LG and medial gastrocnemius muscles increased to 134 and 125%, respectively, compared with the levels measured preintervention. Although secondary additional or amplified activation bursts were observed with enhanced connectivity, the primary pattern of activation over the stride and the burst duration were not affected by the intervention. Similar muscle length changes after manipulation were observed, suggesting that length feedback from spindle receptors within SO and LG was not affected by the connectivity enhancement. We conclude that peripheral mechanical constraints given by morphological (re)organization of connective tissues linking synergists are taken into account by the central nervous system. The observed shift in activity toward the gastrocnemius muscles after the intervention suggests that these larger muscles are preferentially recruited when the soleus has a similar mechanical disadvantage in that it produces an unwanted flexion moment around the knee. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Connective tissue linkages between muscle- tendon units may act as an additional mechanical constraint on the musculoskeletal system, thereby reducing the spectrum of solutions for performing a motor task. We found that intermuscular coordination changes following intermuscular connectivity enhancement. Besides showing that the extent of such connectivity is taken into account by the central nervous system, our results suggest that recruitment of triceps surae muscles is governed by the moments produced at the ankle-knee joints.
- Connective tissues
- Muscle recruitment