The functional consequences of differential muscle activation and contractile behavior between mechanically coupled synergists are still poorly understood. Even though synergistic muscles exert similar mechanical effects at the joint they span, differences in the anatomy, morphology and neural drive may lead to non-uniform contractile conditions. This study aimed to investigate the patterns of activation and contractile behavior of triceps surae muscles, to understand how these contribute to the relative displacement between the one-joint soleus (SO) and two-joint lateral gastrocnemius (LG) muscle bellies and their distal tendons during locomotion in the rat. In seven rats, muscle belly lengths and muscle activation during level and upslope trotting were measured by sonomicrometry crystals and electromyographic electrodes chronically implanted in the SO and LG. Length changes of muscle-tendon units (MTUs) and tendon fascicles were estimated based on joint kinematics and muscle belly lengths. Distances between implanted crystals were further used to assess longitudinal and transversal deformations of the intermuscular volume between the SO and LG. For both slope conditions, we observed differential timing of muscle activation as well as substantial differences in contraction speeds between muscle bellies (maximal relative speed 55.9 mm s-1). Muscle lengths and velocities did not differ significantly between level and upslope locomotion, only EMG amplitude of the LG was affected by slope. Relative displacements between SO and LG MTUs were found in both longitudinal and transversal directions, yielding an estimated maximal length change difference of 2.0 mm between their distal tendons. Such relative displacements may have implications for the force exchanged via intermuscular and intertendinous pathways.
- Achilles tendon
- Myofascial force transmission
- Synergistic muscles
- Treadmill trotting