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J Appl Physiol (1985). 1990 Mar;68(3):1033-40.

Elastic energy storage in tendons: mechanical differences related to function and age.

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  • 1Department of Biology, University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.


We investigated the possibility that tendons that normally experience relatively high stresses and function as springs during locomotion, such as digital flexors, might develop different mechanical properties from those that experience only relatively low stresses, such as digital extensors. At birth the digital flexor and extensor tendons of pigs have identical mechanical properties, exhibiting higher extensibility and mechanical hysteresis and lower elastic modulus, tensile strength, and elastic energy storage capability than adult tendons. With growth and aging these tendons become much stronger, stiffer, less extensible, and more resilient than at birth. Furthermore, these alterations in elastic properties occur to a significantly greater degree in the high-load-bearing flexors than in the low-stress extensors. At maturity the pig digital flexor tendons have twice the tensile strength and elastic modulus but only half the strain energy dissipation of the corresponding extensor tendons. A morphometric analysis of the digital muscles provides an estimate of maximal in vivo tendon stresses and suggests that the muscle-tendon unit of the digital flexor is designed to function as an elastic energy storage element whereas that of the digital extensor is not. Thus the differences in material properties between mature flexor and extensor tendons are correlated with their physiological functions, i.e., the flexor is much better suited to act as an effective biological spring than is the extensor.

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