The purpose of this investigation was to determine the influence of different stretch velocities, different rates of pre-stretch force development, and different pre-stretch muscle lengths on the intrinsic stiffness exhibited by the quasi-statically contracting active human plantarflexors during multiple single-stretch trials at 20-60% of maximum isometric contraction. Subjects were positioned prone, with the knee flexed 1.57 rad(90 degrees), shank stabilized, and foot secured in a hard plastic orthotic. Slowly increasing isometric plantarflexion force was produced until the plantarflexors were stretched by a rapid 0.2 rad (12 degrees) dorsiflexion movement. Plantarflexion forces and ankle positions were determined during these stretches as well as during resting stretches when the muscle was inactive. Resting forces were subtracted from the active trials, forces converted to torques, and stiffnesses determined for the first 62 ms of the stretch. The slope of the stiffness vs pre-stretch torque relationship averaged 4.30 +/- 0.34 Nm rad-1 Nm-1. Little difference was found between stiffness determined through the single-stretch method and the results of previous studies employing different mechanical inputs. Differences in stiffnesses with different stretching velocities were caused by computational artifact rather than by differences in intrinsic muscular reaction. Faster rates of pre-stretch force increase prior to the stretch resulted in slightly lower stiffnesses. Different pre-stretch muscle lengths apparently did not result in different stiffnesses. The shape of the torque vs displacement curve was remarkably insensitive to the planned manipulations of the testing conditions, responding in a stereotypical manner.
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