Effects of Age on Mechanical Properties of Dorsiflexor and Plantarflexor Muscles
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Redundancy in the human muscular system makes it challenging to assess age-related changes in muscle mechanical properties in vivo, as ethical considerations prohibit direct muscle force measurement. We overcame this by using a hybrid approach that combined magnetic resonance and ultrasound imaging, dynamometer measurements, muscle modeling, and numerical optimization to obtain subject-specific estimates of the mechanical properties of tibialis anterior, gastrocnemius, and soleus muscles from young and older adults. We hypothesized that older subjects would have lower maximal isometric forces, slower contractile and stiffer elastic characteristics, and that subject-specific muscle properties would give more accurate joint torque predictions compared to generic properties. Unknown muscle model parameters were obtained by minimizing the difference between simulated and actual subject torque-time histories under both isometric and isovelocity conditions. The resulting subject-specific models showed age- and gender-related differences, with older adults displaying reduced maximal isometric forces, slower force–velocity and altered force–length properties and stiffer elasticity. Tibialis anterior was least affected by aging. Subject-specific models gave good predictions of experimental concentric torque-time histories (10–14% error), but were less accurate for eccentric conditions. With generic muscle properties prediction errors were about twice as large. For maximum predictive power, musculoskeletal models should be tailored to individual subjects.