Physiological cross-sectional area of human leg muscles based on magnetic resonance imaging



Magnetic resonance imaging techniques were used to determine the physiological cross-sectional areas (PCSAs) of the major muscles or muscle groups of the lower leg. For 12 healthy subjects, the boundaries of each muscle or muscle group were digitized from images taken at 1-cm intervals along the length of the leg. Muscle volumes were calculated from the summation of each anatomical CSA (ACSA) and the distance between each section. Muscle length was determined as the distance between the most proximal and distal images in which the muscle was visible. The PCSA of each muscle was calculated as muscle volume times the cosine of the angle of fiber pinnation divided by fiber length, where published fiber length:muscle length ratios were used to estimate fiber lengths. The mean volumes of the major plantarflexors were 489, 245, and 140 cm3 for the soleus and medial (MG) and lateral (LG) heads of the gastrocnemius. The mean PCSA of the soleus was 230 cm2, about three and eight times larger than the MG (68 cm2) and LG (28 cm2), respectively. These PCSA values were eight (soleus), four (MG), and three (LG) times larger than their respective maximum ACSA. The major dorsiflexor, the tibialis anterior (TA), had a muscle volume of 143 cm2, a PCSA of 19 cm2, and an ACSA of 9 cm2. With the exception of the soleus, the mean fiber length of all subjects was closely related to muscle volume across muscles. The soleus fibers were unusually short relative to the muscle volume, thus potentiating its force potential. Using the relationship between PCSA and fiber length to represent the maximum force-velocity potential of a muscle and assuming a similar moment arm, the soleus, MG, and LG would be expected to produce ±71, 22, and 7% of the force and 54, 30, and 16% of the power of the major plantarflexors. These data illustrate some of the major limitations in the use of ACSA measurements to predict the functional properties of a muscle.