Shear wave velocity is sensitive to changes in muscle stiffness that occur independently from changes in force

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7 Scopus citations


Clinical assessments for many musculoskeletal disorders involve evaluation of muscle stiffness, although it is not yet possible to obtain quantitative estimates from individual muscles. Ultrasound elastography can be used to estimate the material properties of unstressed, homogeneous, and isotropic materials by tracking the speed of shear wave propagation; these waves propagate faster in stiffer materials. Although elastography has been applied to skeletal muscle, there is little evidence that shear wave velocity (SWV) can directly estimate muscle stiffness since this tissue violates many of the assumptions required for there to be a direct relationship between SWV and stiffness. The objective of this study was to evaluate the relationship between SWV and direct measurements of muscle force and stiffness in contracting muscle. Data were collected from six isoflurane-anesthetized cats. We measured the short-range stiffness in the soleus via direct mechanical testing in situ and SWV via ultrasound imaging. Measurements were taken during supramaximal activation at optimum muscle length, with muscle temperature varying between 26°C and 38°C. An increase in temperature causes a decrease in muscle stiffness at a given force, thus decoupling the tension-stiffness relationship normally present in muscle. We found that increasing muscle temperature decreased active stiffness from 4.0 ± 0.3 MPa to 3.3 ± 0.3 MPa and SWV from 16.9 ± 1.5 m/s to 15.9 ± 1.6 m/s while force remained unchanged (mean ± SD). These results demonstrate that SWV is sensitive to changes in muscle stiffness during active contractions. Future work is needed to determine how this relationship is influenced by changes in muscle structure and tension.NEW & NOTEWORTHY Shear wave ultrasound elastography is a noninvasive tool for characterizing the material properties of muscle. This study is the first to compare direct measurements of stiffness with ultrasound measurements of shear wave velocity (SWV) in a contracting muscle. We found that SWV is sensitive to changes in muscle stiffness, even when controlling for muscle tension, another factor that influences SWV. These results are an important step toward developing noninvasive tools for characterizing muscle structure and function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8-16
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of applied physiology (Bethesda, Md. : 1985)
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020


  • cat soleus
  • muscle stiffness
  • shear wave elastography
  • tissue elasticity
  • ultrasound

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)

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