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Effect of sex on preactivation of the gastrocnemius and hamstring muscles
  1. R G DeMont,
  2. S M Lephart
  1. Neuromuscular Research Laboratory, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr DeMont
 Athletic Therapy Research Laboratory, SP165-28, Concordia University, Montreal, QC, Canada H4B 1R6;


Background: The reason for the higher incidence of anterior cruciate ligament injury from non-contact mechanisms in female athletes is not known. Stability of the joint from dynamic restraints occurs through proprioceptive and kinaesthetic mechanisms providing a flexion moment. Reflexive muscle activation is different between the sexes, but it is unclear if sex differences exist in the ability to dynamically stabilise joints through a neuromuscular feed forward process as measured by preactivation of the muscles.

Objective: To determine if the level of preactivation of the gastrocnemius and hamstring muscles during dynamic activity is affected by sex.

Methods: Thirty four healthy active subjects, evenly grouped by sex, participated in the study. Maximum voluntary contraction normalised electromyographic (EMG) activity of the quadriceps, hamstrings, and gastrocnemius muscles was recorded during downhill walking (0.92 m/s) and running (2.08 m/s) on a 15° declined treadmill. Preactivation of the EMG signal was calculated by setting a mark 150 milliseconds before foot strike, as indicated by a footswitch. Multiple t tests for sex differences of preactivity mean percentage (M-EMG%) during the downhill activities were performed.

Results: The female subjects had a higher M-EMG% for the medial hamstrings than the male subjects (31.73 (9.89) and 23.04 (8.59) respectively; t(2,32)  =  2.732, p  =  0.01) during walking. No other muscles exhibited a sex difference in M-EMG% during either activity.

Conclusion: The female subjects in this study showed higher medial hamstring preactivation. However, this may be because they were not injured, indicating their propensity for joint stabilisation. A long term prospective study is required to eliminate this potential explanation. No sex difference in gastrocnemius preactivation was seen, adding to the controversy about whether this muscle contributes to feed forward joint stability. Further research of preactivation of the musculature of the leg is required.

  • sex differences
  • gastrocnemius
  • hamstring
  • anterior cruciate ligament
  • injury
  • ACL, anterior cruciate ligament
  • EMG, electromyography
  • MG, medial gastrocnemius
  • MH, medial hamstring
  • MVC, maximum voluntary contraction
  • LG, lateral gastrocnemius
  • LH, lateral hamstring

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