Purpose The purpose of this study was to investigate differences in the associations between passive ankle dorsiflexion range of motion (ROM) and stiffness of the triceps surae, sciatic nerve, and deep fascia located in the posterior leg between young and older people. Methods Twenty young and twenty older males were recruited and were placed in a prone position with their hip and knee fully extended. Passive ankle dorsiflexion ROM was determined based on the onset of pain during passive dorsiflexion at 1°·s-1 using an isokinetic dynamometer. Shear wave speeds (as a stiffness index) of the triceps surae, the sciatic nerve, and the deep fascia in the posterior leg were evaluated by ultrasound shear wave elastography. Results The shear wave speeds of the medial and lateral gastrocnemius measured at 15° dorsiflexion correlated negatively with passive ROM in young but not in older participants. The shear wave speed of the sciatic nerve measured at 15° dorsiflexion correlated negatively with passive ROM only in older participants. No association was observed between passive ROM and shear wave speed of the deep fascia in the posterior leg. For data measured at maximal dorsiflexion angle (as an index of stretch tolerance), shear wave speeds of the triceps surae and passive joint torque correlated positively with passive ROM in both groups. Conclusion These results suggest that the tissues limiting passive ankle dorsiflexion ROM are muscle and nerve for young and older people, respectively, whereas stretch tolerance influences passive ROM for both groups. This implies that the relative contribution of nonmuscular tissues to joint flexibility become stronger than that of muscles with age.
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