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Quantification of internal stress-strain fields in human tendon: Unraveling the mechanisms that underlie regional tendon adaptations and mal-adaptations to mechanical loading and the effectiveness of therapeutic eccentric exercise

Maganaris, CN and Chatzistergos, P and Reeves, ND and Narici, MV (2017) Quantification of internal stress-strain fields in human tendon: Unraveling the mechanisms that underlie regional tendon adaptations and mal-adaptations to mechanical loading and the effectiveness of therapeutic eccentric exercise. Frontiers in Physiology, 8. ISSN 1664-042X

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Abstract

© 2017 Maganaris, Chatzistergos, Reeves and Narici. By virtue of their anatomical location between muscles and bones, tendons make it possible to transform contractile force to joint rotation and locomotion. However, tendons do not behave as rigid links, but exhibit viscoelastic tensile properties, thereby affecting the length and contractile force in the in-series muscle, but also storing and releasing elastic stain energy as some tendons are stretched and recoiled in a cyclic manner during locomotion. In the late 90s, advancements were made in the application of ultrasound scanning that allowed quantifying the tensile deformability and mechanical properties of human tendons in vivo. Since then, the main principles of the ultrasound-based method have been applied by numerous research groups throughout the world and showed that tendons increase their tensile stiffness in response to exercise training and chronic mechanical loading, in general, by increasing their size and improving their intrinsic material. It is often assumed that these changes occur homogenously, in the entire body of the tendon, but recent findings indicate that the adaptations may in fact take place in some but not all tendon regions. The present review focuses on these regional adaptability features and highlights two paradigms where they are particularly evident: (a) Chronic mechanical loading in healthy tendons, and (b) tendinopathy. In the former loading paradigm, local tendon adaptations indicate that certain regions may "see," and therefore adapt to, increased levels of stress. In the latter paradigm, local pathological features indicate that certain tendon regions may be "stress-shielded" and degenerate over time. Eccentric exercise protocols have successfully been used in the management of tendinopathy, without much sound understanding of the mechanisms underpinning their effectiveness. For insertional tendinopathy, in particular, it is possible that the effectiveness of a loading/rehabilitation protocol depends on the topography of the stress created by the exercise and is not only reliant upon the type of muscle contraction performed. To better understand the micromechanical behavior and regional adaptability/mal-adaptability of tendon tissue it is important to estimate its internal stress-strain fields. Recent relevant advancements in numerical techniques related to tendon loading are discussed.

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