Low-level mechanical stimulation is sufficient to improve tendon healing in rats

Therese Andersson, Pernilla Eliasson, Malin Hammerman, Olof Sandberg, Per Aspenberg
Journal of Applied Physiology 2012, 113 (9): 1398-402
Treatment of tendon injuries often involves immobilization. However, immobilization might not prevent mild involuntary isometric muscle contraction. The effect of weak forces on tendon healing is therefore of clinical interest. Studies of tendon healing with various methods for load reduction in rat Achilles tendon models show a consistent reduction in tendon strength by at least half, compared with voluntary cage activity. Unloading was not complete in any of these models, and the healing tendon was therefore still exposed to mild mechanical stimulation. By reducing the forces acting on the tendon even further, we now studied the effects of this mild stimulation. Rat Achilles tendons were transected and allowed to heal spontaneously under four different loading conditions: 1) normal cage activity; 2) calf muscle paralysis induced by botulinum toxin A (Botox); 3) tail suspension; 4) Botox and tail suspension, combined, to eliminate even mild stimulation. Healing was evaluated by mechanical testing after 8 days. Botox alone and suspension alone both reduced tendon callus size (transverse area), thereby impairing its strength compared with normal cage activity. The combination of Botox and suspension did not further reduce tendon callus size but drastically impaired the material properties of the tendon callus compared with each treatment alone. The peak force was only a fifth of that in the normal cage activity group. The results indicate that also the mild loading that occurs with either Botox or suspension alone stimulates tendon healing. This stimulation appears to affect mainly tissue quality, whereas stronger stimulation also increases callus size.

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