Contracture, or stiffening of muscles and joints, is a major cause of disability in people with advanced MS. This study is designed to better understand the mechanisms of contracture, to examine the effectiveness of existing interventions, and to develop new, more effective interventions for prevention and treatment of contracture.
People with contracture are unable to move their joints through the full range of movements, which can prevent normal tasks like walking. The origin of contracture is not fully understood. “We’re trying to find if the problem of contracture lies primarily in the muscle or in the tendons,” says Associate Professor Rob Herbert.
Until recently, it has not been possible to measure the mechanical properties of human muscles and tendons with non-invasive techniques. Associate Professor Herbert and his colleagues have developed novel methods to measure the mechanical properties of human leg muscles and tendons.
Seventeen people with advanced MS and the same number of age- and sex-matched controls without MS will have the stiffness of their ankles tested with the knee in a range of positions. The data can be used to calculate the stiffness of one of the calf muscles. Ultrasound imaging will also be used to measure muscle fibre lengths. The stiffness data and fibre length data will be combined in a way that makes it possible to determine the stiffness of the tendons and the muscle fibres.
“Contracture is a major cause of disability for people with MS. The work funded by MS Research Australia will help us understand what causes contracture, and may help develop preventative treatments or exercises to improve patients’ ability to live with the disease,” concludes Prof Herbert.
Contracture, or stiffening of muscles and joints, is a major cause of disability in people with advanced MS. However the underlying pathology of contracture is not well understood. Associate Professor Rob Herbert are conducting a series of studies to investigate changes in the mechanical properties of calf muscles in people with MS. A new method that involves ultrasound imaging of muscles is being used to determine whether contracture in people with multiple sclerosis is due to changes in the stiffness of muscle fibres or tendons.
One study has already been completed. In that study, Associate Professor Herbert measured mechanical properties of calf muscles in people with MS who had impaired lower limbs but were still ambulatory. There was no detectable difference in the mechanical properties of the calf muscles of these people, with relatively little disability and little clinical evidence of contracture, and people who did not have MS. Associate Professor Herbert is now conducting a second study in a population of people with MS who are more severely disabled and have clinical evidence of significant contracture.
Updated: 03 January, 2008