European Journal of Applied Physiology

, Volume 116, Issue 11–12, pp 2281–2292 | Cite as

Aging and the effects of a half marathon on Achilles tendon force–elongation relationship

  • Thijs Maria Anne Ackermans
  • Gaspar Epro
  • Christopher McCrum
  • Kai Daniel Oberländer
  • Frank Suhr
  • Maarten Robert Drost
  • Kenneth Meijer
  • Kiros Karamanidis
Original Article



We aimed to determine whether there are different changes in Achilles tendon (AT) mechanical properties in middle-aged, compared to younger runners that might indicate that tendon fatigue, induced by long-distance running, is age-dependent.


27 middle-aged (50–67 years) and 22 younger (21–29 years) participants ran a 21 km route at their own pace (mean and SD: old: 3.1 ± 0.3 m s−1; young: 3.6 ± 0.5 m s−1). We tested for changes in the AT force–elongation relationship using dynamometry and ultrasonography during isometric voluntary ankle plantarflexion ramp contractions, conducted 20–28 h pre-run, immediately pre-run, immediately post-run and 20–28 h post-run. Stride frequency and number were examined to estimate cyclic tensile loading characteristics of the tendon during running.


Muscle strength decreased significantly (P < 0.05) in both groups immediately post-run (old: 17 %; young: 11 %) and recovered to baseline within 20–28 h post-run. AT stiffness did not change for the younger adults, whereas the middle-aged adults showed a significant (P < 0.05) decrease in AT stiffness (22 %). However, tendon stiffness recovered to baseline 20–28 h post-run. Middle-aged, compared to young adults, demonstrated significantly (P < 0.05) greater stride frequency and number, but no correlations with tendon fatigue changes were determined (R 2 ≤ 0.038).


The results suggest that the plasticity of the AT in response to short-term mechanical loading may be age dependent and that the AT length–tension properties of middle-aged runners may be more vulnerable to change following running compared to younger athletes. However, the observed AT changes in the middle-aged runners dissipated within 20–28 h post-run, suggesting that a tendon viscoelastic recovery mechanism may occur in vivo.


Tendon stiffness Tendon fatigue Running Mechanical loading Age Muscle contraction 



20–28 h before the run


Within 20–28 h after the run


Achilles tendon


Analysis of variance


Cross-sectional area


Gastrocnemius medialis


Immediately before the run


Immediately after the run


Muscle–tendon unit


Maximal voluntary plantarflexion ramp contraction


Standard deviation



The Bundesinstitut für Sportwissenschaft (BISp), the Olympiastützpunkt Rheinland and the Forschungsservicestelle of the German Sport University Cologne (Hochschulinterne Forschungsförderung) provided the funding for this study. In addition, we would like to thank Dr. Falk Schade for his support throughout this research project.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

421_2016_3482_MOESM1_ESM.docx (147 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 146 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thijs Maria Anne Ackermans
    • 1
    • 2
  • Gaspar Epro
    • 1
    • 3
  • Christopher McCrum
    • 1
    • 2
  • Kai Daniel Oberländer
    • 4
  • Frank Suhr
    • 5
  • Maarten Robert Drost
    • 2
  • Kenneth Meijer
    • 2
  • Kiros Karamanidis
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Movement and Sport GerontologyGerman Sport University CologneCologneGermany
  2. 2.Department of Human Movement Science, NUTRIM School of Nutrition and Translational Research in MetabolismMaastricht University Medical Centre+MaastrichtThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Institute of Biomechanics and OrthopaedicsGerman Sport University CologneCologneGermany
  4. 4.Fresenius University of Applied Sciences, Media SchoolCologneGermany
  5. 5.Department of Molecular and Cellular Sport Medicine, Institute of Cardiovascular Research and Sport MedicineGerman Sport University CologneCologneGermany

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