Neuromuscular changes of the aged human hamstrings
Journal of Neurophysiology
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Despite the life-long importance for posture and locomotion, neuromuscular properties of the hamstrings muscle have not been explored with adult aging. The purpose of this study was to assess and compare agerelated effects on contractile function, spinal motor neuron output expressed as motor unit (MU) discharge rates in the hamstrings of 11 young (26 +/- 4 yr) and 10 old (80 +/- 5 yr) men. Maximal voluntary isometric contractions (MVC), stimulated contractile properties, and surface and intramuscular electromyography (EMG) from submaximai to MVC were recorded in the biceps femoris (BF) and semimembranosus-semitendinosus (SS) muscles. MVC torque was -50% less in the old with both age groups attaining >93%' mean voluntary activation. Eivoked twitches in the old were -50% lower in amplitude and >150% longer in duration compared with those in the young. At successive voluntary contractions of 25 , 50, and 100% MVC, MU discharge rates were up to 45%' lower in old. with no differences in relative submaximal surface EMG between age groups. Furthermore, the old had significantly lower MU discharge rates in the SS at all contraction intensities compared with the BF muscle. Men in their 8th to 10th decades of life demonstrate substantially lower strength and MU discharge rates in this functionally important large lower limb muscle group, with greater age-related effect on discharge rates in the medial hamstrings. These findings, compared with those in other muscles studied, highlight that the neuromuscular properties of limb muscles, and indeed within functionally similar portions of a muscle group, arc not all affected equally by the aging process. NEW & NOTEWORTHY In the hamstrings, wc found that both contractile function and motor unit discharge rates across the range of voluntary intensities were lower in the old. The differences in discharge rates due to age were greater in the medial hamstrings muscle group compared with the lateral hamstrings. Compared with previous studies, these results highlight that not all muscles arc affected equally by aging and there may be compartmental differences within functionally similar muscles.