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J Shoulder Elbow Surg. 2011 Jul;20(5):698-707. doi: 10.1016/j.jse.2010.11.033. Epub 2011 Mar 9.

Decreased loading after rotator cuff tears leads to improved biceps tendon properties in a rat model.

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  • 1McKay Orthopaedic Research Laboratory, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6081, USA.



The purpose of this study was to elucidate the mechanism of biceps tendon changes after rotator cuff tears. We hypothesized that increased loading on the biceps tendon after rotator cuff tears will result in further detrimental changes whereas decreased loading will result in increased organization and more normal tendon composition. In addition, we hypothesized that changes with altered loading will begin at the proximal insertion into bone and progress along the tendon length at later time points.


Supraspinatus and infraspinatus tendon detachments in rats were followed by various loading protocols at various time points. Regional changes in cellularity, cell shape, collagen organization, and matrix proteins of the long head of the biceps tendon were determined by histologic measures and immunohistochemistry.


Increased loading after detachments resulted in more disorganized collagen after only 1 week and compositional changes by 4 weeks. By 8 weeks, decreased loading resulted in increased organization, decreased cellularity, a more elongated cell shape, and more normal tendon composition. Organizational changes with increased loading began in the intra-articular space and progressed along the tendon length with time.


Combined with previous findings of decreased mechanics with increased loading, these results show that increased compressive loading away from the proximal insertion into bone is a mechanism for biceps tendon pathology in the presence of rotator cuff tears. The striking improvements with decreased loading further support increased loading as a mechanism for biceps tendon pathology because removal of this load led to improvements in tendon histology, organization, and composition.

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