Aim: To investigate whether sarcopenia was evenly distributed among the three components of the triceps surae (TS) muscle group.
Methods: Muscle volume (VOL), fibre fascicle length (Lf), pennation angle (θ) and physiological cross-sectional area (PCSA = VOL/Lf) were measured in vivo for the lateral (GL) and medial (GM) heads of the gastrocnemius muscles and for the soleus muscle (SOL), in 15 young males (YM, aged 25.3 ± 4.5 years) and 12 elderly males (EM aged 73.8 ± 4.4 years).
Results: In the EM, VOL of all three muscles was significantly smaller than in the YM; differences were: 27% for the GL (P < 0.01), 29% for the GM (P < 0.01) and 17% for the SOL (P < 0.05). In total, TS VOL was 22% smaller in EM than in YM (P < 0.01). In the EM, values of θ were significantly smaller than in the YM; by 15–18% for the GL, GM and SOL (P < 0.05). In the EM, Lf of the GM was 16% smaller than in the YM (P < 0.01); no significant differences were found in the other muscles. PCSA of the GL and GM were both found to be smaller in EM by 19% (P < 0.01) and 14.5% (P < 0.05), respectively. No difference was observed in the SOL PCSA between YM and EM. Interestingly, probably because of the prevalent contribution of the SOL to PCSA distribution of each muscle to the TS PCSA, the relative TS PCSA was not different between YM and EM. Furthermore, the Lf/muscle length ratio did not differ between YM and EM.
Conclusion: The present study shows that the relative PCSA composition of the TS is maintained with ageing and that the PCSA is scaled down harmonically with the decrease in muscle volume and fascicle length. Such observation suggests that the relative contribution of the components of the TS muscle to the total force developed by this muscle group is maintained with ageing.