European Journal of Applied Physiology

, Volume 118, Issue 11, pp 2403–2415 | Cite as

Hamstring stiffness pattern during contraction in healthy individuals: analysis by ultrasound-based shear wave elastography

  • Bruno Mendes
  • Telmo Firmino
  • Raúl Oliveira
  • Tiago Neto
  • Jorge Infante
  • João R. Vaz
  • Sandro R. FreitasEmail author
Original Article



To assess the stiffness of hamstring muscles during isometric contractions in healthy individuals, using ultrasound-based shear wave elastography to (1) determine the intra- and inter-day assessment repeatability, (2) characterize the stiffness of semitendinosus (ST) and biceps femoris long head (BFlh) along the contraction intensity, and (3) characterize stiffness distribution among the hamstring muscles and inter-limb symmetry.


Two experiments were conducted. In experiment I (n = 12), the intra-day repeatability in assessing the BFlh and ST stiffness were determined at intensities between 10–60% of maximal voluntary isometric contraction (MVIC) in a single session. In experiment II (n = 11), the stiffness of the hamstring muscles of both thighs was assessed at 20% of MVIC in the first session; and retested (for one randomly chosen thigh) in a second session. Isometric contraction of knee flexors was performed with the knee flexed at 30° and with the hip in a neutral position.


Moderate-to-very-high intra- and inter-day repeatability was found (ICC = 0.69–0.93). The BFlh/ST stiffness ratio increased with contraction intensity. At 20% of MVIC, the ST showed the highest stiffness among the hamstring muscles (p < 0.02), with no differences between the remaining hamstring muscles (p > 0.474). No differences were found between limbs (p = 0.12).


The stiffness distribution among the hamstring muscles during submaximal isometric contractions is heterogeneous, but symmetric between limbs, and changes depending on the contraction intensity. Shear wave elastography is a reliable tool to assess the stiffness of hamstring muscles during contraction.


Surface EMG Shear modulus Skeletal muscle Biceps femoris short head Semitendinosus 



Biceps femoris long head


Biceps femoris long head to semitendinosus ratio


Biceps femoris short head


Cohen effect size


Intraclass correlation coefficient


Maximum voluntary isometric contractions


Pearson correlation coefficient


Surface electromyography


Standard error of measurement






Ultrasound-based shear wave elastography



The authors confirm that they have read the Journal’s position on issues involved in ethical publication and affirm that this report is consistent with those guidelines.

Author contributions

All authors conceived and designed the research. TF and BM conducted experiments. TN processed the data. TF and BM analyzed data. TF and BM wrote the manuscript. All authors read and approved the manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

None of the authors has any conflict of interest to disclose. JV is funded by P20GM109090.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study. We are thankful to Mr. Vitor Meha for his great contribution in the experimental setup.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculdade de Motricidade HumanaUniversidade de LisboaLisboaPortugal
  2. 2.Benfica LAB, Sport Lisboa e BenficaLisboaPortugal
  3. 3.ESSA, Escola Superior de Saúde do AlcoitãoCascaisPortugal
  4. 4.Department of PhysiotherapyLUNEX International University of Health, Exercise and SportsDifferdangeLuxembourg
  5. 5.Universidade Europeia, Laureate International UniversitiesLisboaPortugal
  6. 6.Department of BiomechanicsUniversity of Nebraska at OmahaOmahaUSA

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