The morphological basis of increased stiffness of rabbit tibialis anterior muscles during surgical limb-lengthening

P Williams, P Kyberd, H Simpson, J Kenwright, G Goldspink

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


When the tibialis anterior muscle of the rabbit is progressively stretched during surgical limb distraction, the muscle fibres lengthen by addition of new serial sarcomeres, provided that stretch is carried out at an appropriate rate. However, in spite of the apparent adaptation to the new functional length, range of joint movement is greatly decreased. In this study we have first, made measurements of the passive tension developed by distracted muscles over the range of joint movement and secondly made quantitative measurements of endomysial and perimysial connective tissue content. It was found that at all ankle joint angles greater than 90 degrees, the passive tension developed by the distracted muscles was greater than both contralateral and sham-operated controls. Image analysis showed that the ratio of collagen to contractile material was increased in distracted muscles compared with muscles from sham-operated controls, due to increased deposition of collagen type III. Scanning electron microscopy showed the presence of a dense perimysial weave surrounding the distracted muscle fibres. These quantitative and qualitative changes in the connective tissue component could account for the increased stiffness demonstrated by the physiological measurements. It would seem that in distracted muscle the connective tissue element adapts less readily than the contractile component, with prolonged stretch leading to damage to the perimysial and endomysial network, with subsequent fibrosis and loss of muscle compliance. Such changes could help explain the loss of range of movement noted in the distracted limbs of patients undergoing surgical limb-lengthening and in other conditions that result in muscle contractures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-8
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Anatomy
Volume193 ( Pt 1)
Publication statusPublished - Jul 1998


  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Animals
  • Collagen
  • Connective Tissue
  • Contracture
  • Hindlimb
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Muscle, Skeletal
  • Osteogenesis, Distraction
  • Rabbits
  • Range of Motion, Articular


Dive into the research topics of 'The morphological basis of increased stiffness of rabbit tibialis anterior muscles during surgical limb-lengthening'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this