Immobilization‐induced muscle atrophy is not reversed by lengthening the muscle

L. C. Maxwell, C. S. Enwemeka

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


In clinical practice, repaired tendocalcaneus (Achilles tendon) ruptures are often protected in immobilization casts for 4 weeks in the fully plantar flexed position and for up to another 4 weeks after returining the ankle to joint neutral. Moderate to severe muscle atrophy occurs within 4 weeks of immobilization in plantar flexion, but it is not known if this atrophy is minimized or reversed following restoration of joint neutral position. We tested the hypothesis that the extent of atrophy could be reduced by returning the ankle to joint neutral after 4 weeks of immobilization. Eighteen rabbits were anesthetized, and their right hindlimbs were casted with the knee flexed 90° and the ankle fully planter flexed. Three animals each were studied after 3, 4, 6, or 8 weeks of immobilization. After 4 weeks of immobilization, the immobilization casts of the remaining six rabbits were modified to reture the ankle to joint neutral for another 2 or 4 weeks. For muscle studies, the animals were anesthetized, and the soleus (SOL), plantaris (PLN), and gastrocnemius (GST) muscles were removed and weighed; the SOL and PLN were quick frozen and processed for histochemical fiber typing and fiber cross‐sectional area measurement. All three muscles showed significantly reduced muscle weight to body weight ratios after 3 weeks of immobilization. SOL was the most affected, and GST was least affected. There was no significant further atrophy through 8 weeks of immobilization. The atrophy corrolated with a significant reduction of mean fiber area (MFA) for Types I, IIo, and IIc fibers in SOL and PLN. In PLN, Type IIg fiber area was not significantly reduced. MFAs of fibers of SOL and PLN muscles that were lengthened by returning to ankle joint neutral for 2 or 4 weeks were not different from those from those of limbs kept at planter flexion for 6 or 8 weeks. These data indicate that atrophy had reached a near‐maximal extent within 4 weeks and that subsequent lengthening of the muscles did not reverse the atrophy. © 1992 Wiley‐Liss, Inc.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-61
Number of pages7
JournalAnatomical Record
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Sept 1992
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)


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