Greater lower extremity joint stiffness may be related to the development of tibial stress fractures in runners. Musculotendinous stiffness is the largest contributor to joint stiffness, but it is unclear what factors contribute to musculotendinous stiffness. The purpose of this study was to compare plantar flexor musculotendinous stiffness, architecture, geometry, and Achilles tendon stiffness between male runners with and without a history of tibial stress fracture. Nineteen healthy runners (age = 21 ± 2.7 years; mass = 68.2 ± 9.3 kg; height = 177.3 ± 6.0 cm) and 19 runners with a history of tibial stress fracture (age = 21 ± 2.9 years; mass = 65.3 ± 6.0 kg; height = 177.2 ± 5.2 cm) were recruited from community running groups and the university’s varsity and club cross-country teams. Plantar flexor musculotendinous stiffness was estimated from the damped frequency of oscillatory motion about the ankle follow perturbation. Ultrasound imaging was used to measure architecture and geometry of the medial gastrocnemius. Dependent variables were compared between groups via one-way ANOVAs. Previously injured runners had greater plantar flexor musculotendinous stiffness (P < .001), greater Achilles tendon stiffness (P = .004), and lesser Achilles tendon elongation (P = .003) during maximal isometric contraction compared with healthy runners. No differences were found in muscle thickness, pennation angle, or fascicle length.
Derek N. Pamukoff and J. Troy Blackburn are with the Departments of Exercise and Sport Science and Orthopaedics and the Program in Human Movement Science, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC. J. Troy Blackburn is also with the Neuromuscular Research Laboratory, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC.