The purpose of the present study was to investigate muscle mechanical properties and mechanical interaction between muscles in the lower hindlimb of the spastic mutant rat. Length-force characteristics of gastrocnemius (GA), soleus (SO) and plantaris (PL) were assessed in anesthetized spastic and normally-developed Han-Wistar rats. In addition, the extent of epimuscular myofascial force transmission between synergistic GA, SO and PL, as well as between the calf muscles and antagonistic tibialis anterior (TA) was investigated. Active length-force characteristics of spastic GA and PL were narrower with a reduced maximal active force. In contrast, active length-force characteristics of spastic SO were similar to those of controls. In reference position (90° ankle and knee angle), higher resistance to ankle dorsiflexion and increased passive stiffness was found for the spastic calf muscle group. At optimum length, passive stiffness and passive force of spastic GA were decreased whereas those of spastic SO were increased. No mechanical interaction between the calf muscles and TA was found. As GA was lengthened, force from SO and PL declined despite a constant muscle-tendon unit length of SO and PL. However, the extent of this interaction was not different in the spastic rats. In conclusion, the effects of spasticity on length-force characteristics were muscle specific. The changes seen for GA and PL muscles are consistent with the changes in limb mechanics reported for human patients. Our results indicate that altered mechanics in the spastic rats cannot be attributed to differences in mechanical interaction, but originate from individual muscular structures.
Journal of Applied Physiology, 2014, Vol 117, Issue 9, p. 989-997