Introduction: Electromechanical delay (EMD) represents a series of complex processes of converting an electrical stimulus to a mechanical response. To quantify the contribution of electrochemical and mechanical processes of EMD in the human biceps brachii muscle over a wide range of elbow joint angles, we determined the onset of muscle contraction and the beginning of force development by recording acceleration of skin surface over the muscle and elbow flexion force, respectively.
Methods: Ten healthy male volunteers underwent two experimental sessions, in which submaximal paired-pulse stimuli were applied percutaneously to the resting biceps brachii muscle at 10 different elbow joint angles from 40° to 130° (0° represents full extension).
Results: The electrical stimulation induced repeatable contractions, in which the test-retest reliability of time parameters was sufficiently high (intraclass correlation coefficient = 0.84-0.88). The time for electrochemical process ranged between 3.1 ± 0.8 and 3.6 ± 0.9 ms and was independent of elbow joint angle (P = 0.64). The time for mechanical process and the total duration of EMD, however, were significantly greater at elbow flexion positions than at 40°, the most extended position in this study (P < 0.05). Regression analysis revealed that at elbow flexion positions, the time for mechanical process increased significantly with decreasing the muscle-tendon length of the biceps brachii calculated from a musculoskeletal model (R2 = 0.54, P < 0.001).
Conclusions: These results suggest that, in the human biceps brachii muscle, the prolongation of EMD at short muscle-tendon length is not attributed to the impairment of the electrochemical process of muscle contraction but to the increased slack within the muscle-tendon unit.