Achilles tendon stiffness determines calf muscle functioning during functional activities. However, contrasting evidence was found in studies comparing Achilles tendon stiffness in older and younger adults. Therefore, this systematic review compares Achilles tendon stiffness and elastic modulus in older and younger adults and reviews functional implications. Studies revealed by systematic bibliographic searches were included if healthy older adults were investigated, and if Achilles tendon stiffness was measured using ultrasound and dynamometry. Meta-analyses were performed to compare Achilles tendon stiffness and elastic modulus in older and younger adults. Achilles tendon stiffness (weighted standardized mean difference = 1.40, 95% confidence intervals [0.42–2.38]) and elastic modulus (weighted standardized mean difference = 1.74, 95% confidence intervals [0.99–2.49]) were decreased in older compared with younger adults. Decreased Achilles tendon stiffness was related to walking performance and balance. Possibly, decreased Achilles tendon stiffness is caused by altered elastic modulus in older adults. Training interventions increasing Achilles tendon stiffness could improve functional capacity.
Delabastita and Vanwanseele are with the Faculty of Movement and Rehabilitation Sciences, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium. Bogaerts is with the Dept. of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, University Hospitals Leuven, Leuven, Belgium.