Achilles tendon healing: long-term biomechanical effects of postoperative mobilization and immobilization in a new mouse model

D Palmes, H U Spiegel, T O Schneider, M Langer, U Stratmann, T Budny, A Probst
Journal of Orthopaedic Research: Official Publication of the Orthopaedic Research Society 2002, 20 (5): 939-46
The aim of the study was to investigate the long-term effects of postoperative immobilization as opposed to mobilization on the biomechanical attributes of healing Achilles tendons in a new experimental mouse model. In 114 Balb-C-mice the left Achilles tendon was transected and sutured by the Kirchmayr-Kessler technique. The tendons healed either under postoperative immobilization effected by fixing the upper ankle joint in equinus position or under mobilization through a limited range of movement. The contralateral Achilles tendons served as internal control. All tendons were tested biomechanically at short intervals up to the 112th postoperative day in terms of load to failure [N], tendon deflection [mm] and tendon stiffness [N/mm], and were evaluated histologically after 8 and 112 days. Postoperative mobilization resulted in a continuous and significantly more rapid restoration of load to failure in comparison to the immobilization group. Tendon deflection was decreased by postoperative mobilization, whereas under immobilization it paradoxically increased still further in the later course. After 112 days the tendons of the mobilization group had regained their original tendon stiffness, whereas the tendons after immobilization reached only about half the values seen in the control tendons. Histologically, postoperative mobilization led to increased immigration of inflammatory cells in the early phase. In the late phase, as compared to immobilization, tendon structure was more mature, with fibre bundles arranged in parallel and interposed tendocytes. Tensile loading of the healing tendon by postoperative mobilization leads to fundamental changes in the biological process of tendon healing resulting in accelerated restoration of load to failure and reduced tendon deflection.

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