Effects of growth on geometry of gastrocnemius muscle in children: a three-dimensional ultrasound analysis

M.R. Benard, J. Harlaar, J.G. Becher, P.A. Huijing, R.T. Jaspers

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During development, muscle growth is usually finely adapted to meet functional demands in daily activities. However, how muscle geometry changes in typically developing children and how these changes are related to functional and mechanical properties is largely unknown. In rodents, longitudinal growth of the pennate m. gastrocnemius medialis (GM) has been shown to occur mainly by an increase in physiological cross-sectional area and less by an increase in fibre length. Therefore, we aimed to: (i) determine how geometry of GM changes in healthy children between the ages of 5 and 12years, (ii) test whether GM geometry in these children is affected by gender, (iii) compare normalized growth of GM geometry in children with that in rats at similar normalized ages, and (iv) investigate how GM geometry in children relates to range of motion of angular foot movement at a given moment. Thirty children (16 females, 14 males) participated in the study. Moment-angle data were collected over a range of angles by rotating the foot from plantar flexion to dorsal flexion at standardized moments. GM geometry in the mid-longitudinal plane was measured using three-dimensional ultrasound imaging. This geometry was compared with that of GM geometry in rats. During growth from 5 to 12years of age, the mean neutral footplate angle (0Nm) occurred at -5° (SD 7°) and was not a function of age. Measured at standardized moments (4Nm), footplate angles towards plantar flexion and dorsal flexion decreased by 25 and 40%, respectively. In both rats and children, GM muscle length increased proportionally with tibia length. In children, the length component of the physiological cross-sectional area and fascicle length increased by 7 and 5% per year, respectively. Fascicle angle did not change over the age range measured. In children, the Achilles tendon length increased by 6% per year. GM geometry was not affected by gender. We conclude that, whereas the length of GM in rat develops mainly by an increase in physiological cross-sectional area of the muscle, GM in children develops by uniform scaling of the muscle. This effect is probably related to the smaller fascicle angle in human GM, which entails a smaller contribution of radial muscle growth to increased GM muscle length. The net effect of uniform scaling of GM muscle belly causes it to be stiffer, explaining the decrease in range of motion of angular foot movement at 4Nm towards dorsal flexion during growth. © 2011 The Authors. Journal of Anatomy © 2011 Anatomical Society of Great Britain and Ireland.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)388-402
JournalJournal of anatomy
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2011

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