Research paper summary – Casril Liebert

Ankle dorsiflexor muscle size, composition and force with ageing and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Matthew Maddocks, Matthew Jones, Thomas Snell, Bronwen Connolly, Susanne de Wolf-Linder, John Moxham, Gerrard F. Rafferty

Published in the journal Experimental Physiology, June 2014

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the name for a group of lung diseases that cause breathing problems. COPD patients often find it hard to do exercise because their muscles may be slightly weaker compared to a healthy person. The ankle dorsiflexor muscle, at the front of the shin, is used for balance and walking. This research looked at how the ankle dorsiflexor muscles were different between 20 young healthy people, 18 healthy elderly people and 17 people with COPD. This allows us to see how COPD affects the normal ageing process of the muscle.

Firstly, we took scans of the muscle to see what it is made of. We also measured the size of the muscle. The scans showed that the COPD patients had a lot of non-useful tissue in the muscle that doesn’t help the muscle work normally. The strength of the muscle was also measured. This was done by passing electricity into the nerve to the side of the knee that supplies the dorsiflexor muscle. This caused the nerves to react and tense the muscle.

The results showed that patients with severe COPD have ankle weakness. This means that their muscles are not as strong as a healthy person and it is harder to do certain tasks that require strength. The scans also revealed that a greater muscle size was associated with a greater muscle strength, and also that tissue in the muscle without a function is a major cause of muscle weakness. The muscle composition scan discovered that fat and fluid in the muscle was often found in COPD patients. This tissue that isn’t useful creates problems which affect exercise performance and postural control, causing impaired balance and walking abnormalities. The discoveries within this study have allowed us to better understand why muscle strength in COPD patients decreases much more than seen with normal ageing.

This summary was produced by Casril Liebert, Year 12 student from JFS School, Harrow, as part of our departmental educational outreach programme.

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