The peculiar attributes of muscles that are stretched when active have been noted for nearly a century. Understandably, the focus of muscle physiology has been primarily on shortening and isometric contractions, as eloquently revealed by A.V. Hill and subsequently by his students. When the sliding filament theory was introduced by A.F. Huxley and H.E. Huxley, it was a relatively simple task to link Hill's mechanical observations to the actions of the cross bridges during these shortening and isometric contractions. In contrast, lengthening or eccentric contractions have remained somewhat enigmatic. Dismissed as necessarily causing muscle damage, eccentric contractions have been much more difficult to fit into the cross-bridge theory. The relatively recent discovery of the giant elastic sarcomeric filament titin has thrust a previously missing element into any discussion of muscle function, in particular during active stretch. Indeed, the unexpected contribution of giant elastic proteins to muscle contractile function is highlighted by recent discoveries that twitchin–actin interactions are responsible for the “catch” property of invertebrate muscle. In this review, we examine several current theories that have been proposed to account for the properties of muscle during eccentric contraction. We ask how well each of these explains existing data and how an elastic filament can be incorporated into the sliding filament model. Finally, we review the increasing body of evidence for the benefits of including eccentric contractions into a program of muscle rehabilitation and strengthening.
- Force enhancement
- Muscle mechanics
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
- Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation