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Muscle size in the lower limb is commonly assessed in neuromuscular research as it correlates with muscle function and some approaches have been assessed for their ability to provide valid estimates of muscle volume. Work to date has not examined the ability of different measurement approaches (such as cross-sectional area (CSA) measures on magnetic resonance (MR) imaging) to accurately track changes in muscle volume as a result of an intervention, such as exercise, injury or disuse. Here we assess whether (a) the percentage change in muscle CSA in 17 lower-limb muscles during 56 days bed-rest, as assessed by five different algorithms, lies within 0.5% of the muscle volume change and (b) the variability of the outcome measure is comparable to that of muscle volume. We find that an approach selecting the MR image with the highest muscle CSA and then a series of CSA measures, the number of which depended upon the muscle considered, immediately distal and proximal, provided an acceptable estimate of the muscle volume change. In the vastii, peroneal, sartorius and anterior tibial muscle groups, accurate results can be attained by increasing the spacing between CSA measures, thus reducing the total number of MR images and hence the measurement time. In the two heads of biceps femoris, semimembranosus and gracilis, it is not possible to reduce the number of CSA measures and the entire muscle volume must be evaluated. Using these approaches one can reduce the number of CSA measures required to estimate changes in muscle volume by ~60%. These findings help to attain more efficient means to track muscle volume changes in interventional studies.

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Journal Article

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