Architectural Properties of Distal Forelimb Muscles in Horses, Equus caballus

Nicholas A.T. Brown, Christopher E. Kawcak, C. Wayne McIlwraith, Marcus G. Pandy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Citations (Scopus)


Articular injuries in athletic horses are associated with large forces from ground impact and from muscular contraction. To accurately and noninvasively predict muscle and joint contact forces, a detailed model of musculoskeletal geometry and muscle architecture is required. Moreover, muscle architectural data can increase our understanding of the relationship between muscle structure and function in the equine distal forelimb. Muscle architectural data were collected from seven limbs obtained from five thoroughbred and thoroughbred-cross horses. Muscle belly rest length, tendon rest length, muscle volume, muscle fiber length, and pennation angle were measured for nine distal forelimb muscles. Physiological cross-sectional area (PCSA) was determined from muscle volume and muscle fiber length. The superficial and deep digital flexor muscles displayed markedly different muscle volumes (227 and 656 cm3, respectively), but their PCSAs were very similar due to a significant difference in muscle fiber length (i.e:., the superficial digital flexor muscle had very short fibers, while those of the deep digital flexor muscle were relatively long). The ulnaris lateralis and flexor carpi ulnaris muscles had short fibers (17.4 and 18.3 mm, respectively). These actuators were strong (peak isometric force, Fmax = 5,814 and 4,017 N, respectively) and stiff (tendon rest length to muscle fiber length, LT:LMF = 5.3 and 2.1, respectively), and are probably well adapted to stabilizing the carpus during the stance phase of gait. In contrast, the flexor carpi radialis muscle displayed long fibers (89.7 mm), low peak isometric force (Fmax = 555 N), and high stiffness (L T:LMF = 1.6). Due to its long fibers and low F max, flexor carpi radialis appears to be better adapted to flexion and extension of the limb during the swing phase of gait than to stabilization of the carpus during stance. Including muscle architectural parameters in a musculoskeletal model of the equine distal forelimb may lead to more realistic estimates not only of the magnitudes of muscle forces, but also of the distribution of forces among the muscles crossing any given joint.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)106-114
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Morphology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2003
Externally publishedYes


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