During prolonged low-level contractions, synergist muscles are activated in an alternating pattern of activity and silence called as alternate muscle activity. Resting muscle stiffness is considered to increase due to muscle fatigue. Thus, we investigated whether the difference in the extent of fatigue of each plantar flexor synergist corresponded to the difference in the frequency of alternate muscle activity between the synergists using muscle shear modulus as an index of muscle stiffness. Nineteen young men voluntarily participated in this study. The shear moduli of the resting medial and lateral gastrocnemius muscles (MG and LG) and soleus muscle (SOL) were measured using shear wave ultrasound elastography before and after a 1-h sustained contraction at 10% peak torque during maximal voluntary contraction of isometric plantar flexion. One subject did not accomplish the task and the alternate muscle activity for MG was not found in 2 subjects; therefore, data for 16 subjects were used for further analyses. The magnitude of muscle activation during the fatiguing task was similar in MG and SOL. The percent change in shear modulus before and after the fatiguing task (MG: 16.7 ± 12.0%, SOL: -4.1 ± 13.9%; mean ± standard deviation) and the alternate muscle activity during the fatiguing task (MG: 33 [20-51] times, SOL: 30 [17-36] times; median [25th-75th percentile]) were significantly higher in MG than in SOL. The contraction-induced change in shear modulus (7.4 ± 20.3%) and the alternate muscle activity (37 [20-45] times) of LG with the lowest magnitude of muscle activation during the fatiguing task among the plantar flexors were not significantly different from those of the other muscles. These results suggest that the degree of increase in muscle shear modulus induced by prolonged contraction corresponds to the frequency of alternate muscle activity between MG and SOL during prolonged contraction. Thus, it is likely that, compared with SOL, the alternate muscle activity of MG occurs more frequently during prolonged contraction due to the greater increase in fatigue of MG induced by the progression of a fatiguing task.
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